Itís a little surprising how often Iím asked why I became a teacher. Perhaps itís not the question itself that I find so surprising, but the way itís asked. Though itís usually unsaid, the tone of the question is closer to, ďOf all the things you could have done with your life, what in the world made you want to be a teacher.Ē
The answer that springs to my mind is usually, ďI wanted to make a positive difference in peopleís lives,Ē but like many things associated with teaching, thatís too simple.
Perhaps I should start by explaining what I believe education is all about. In a way, itís funny because so many people talk about education without really understanding what it is. Actually, thatís one of the tragedies of education today Ė everyone seems to be an expert, yet few people really understand what it is.
For many, the word ďeducationĒ simply refers to the transfer of knowledge and information from one person or group of people to another. The tragedy behind this is that we then jump to the conclusion that we can measure the effectiveness of education by coming up with a standard test and find out how many facts have been transferred.
But education is more than that. If that were all there was to it, the need for teachers would have been eliminated when the printing press was invented Ė indeed, many today feel that the need for teachers has been eliminated by the internet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you happen to be a teacher) that is far from the truth. Education is much, much more than simply imparting information.
The most important thing that education can accomplish is to teach students how to learn. We live in a world that is constantly changing Ė the ďtruthsĒ that we readily accepted yesterday are being challenged today. Todayís highest paying jobs didnít exist 20 years ago, and the jobs that our students will hold havenít been created yet. We donít just teach our students ďstuff,Ē but we have to teach them how to wade through mountains of misinformation in order to find the truth, and then we have to teach them how to understand that truth.
This is especially difficult in a world where we are constantly confronted with the idea that there are only two ways to see things Ė the right way and the wrong way. In our hearts, we may recognize that is too simplistic, that the world is much more complex. Yet, we get caught up in countless battles where proving that our point of view is right, and anything different is not only wrong, but itís evil and will destroy us.
So, why do I teach? I want to make a positive difference in the lives of my students. I want to help them see the complexities of life and be prepared to deal with them. I donít want to teach them what to think Ė I want to help them learn how to think. I want them to be prepared for the changes they will face throughout their lives so that they will face their futures with curiosity Ė not fear.