Teaching is challenging. Teaching is demanding. Let’s face it: teaching is just really hard work! Why, then, do we do it? Why do we stick with it? Why a job with runny noses, with germs, with lesson plans, with correcting papers, with reduced budgets, with bulletin boards, with stress?
Why do we teach?
I’ll tell you why: because we LOVE it. Because teachers love children and love showing them the way to learning, understanding and knowledge. Because teachers can find JOY in teaching every day –
JOY? Seriously, who in their right mind can find JOY in wiping noses, correcting papers, and tying shoes? We can. Teachers can. Unselfish, dedicated, full of love and patience, teachers.
The definitions of JOY are:
- a state of happiness;
- a source or cause of delight;
- the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune;
- the prospect of possessing what one desires. (www.merriam-webster.com)
A state of happiness can only be achieved when someone is involved in activities that they enjoy, that they like, that brings them pleasure. I am in my 20th year of teaching, and I can remember countless times of being truly happy when my students found success. I remember my very first concert as a music teacher. I remember the state of happiness that I experienced in preparation, during, and after the concert. This was not a feeling of pride, but rather JOY for students who had accomplished much. It is a very humble yet self-satisfying feeling of JOY. I am happiest when I am teaching music.
A source or cause of delight is similar to a celebration. I like to think about all of the times I celebrated when a child found success in learning. It is like the idea of seeing the proverbial light-bulb come on for your students – hooray! It is like the feeling you get in your heart when you hear about a former student finding success later in life. It is like the feeling you get when former students – now adults – want to have lunch with you. It is like the feeling you get when you get an invitation to the wedding of a former student. It is like the feeling you get when a former student runs across a crowded restaurant just to give you a hug! It is like the feeling you get when you attend high school graduation and see your former students in caps and gowns. It is like the feeling you get inside when your write a letter of recommendation for a former student, and remember all of their strengths. It is like the feeling you get when you are asked to attend a baptism of a former student’s new baby.
The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune can be overwhelming, even bringing us to tears. I remember vividly when a parent of one of my 2nd grade music students approached me after a concert at a new school. She honestly shared with me that this was the first time her son had ever participated in an entire concert because he could never focus long enough, stand still long enough, not hurt another student long enough – to not get kicked out in some capacity in the preparation or performance stages. She was in tears. Without even sharing her son’s name, I knew exactly which student she was referring to… and I, too, started to cry. I had known that this boy had found much challenge in focusing and staying on task, but I had no idea of his other past struggles. That same night, he brought me something. It was a picture of a flower that he had drawn. He told me that his Grandma had told him that it was proper to give away flowers after a performance. So he drew me a picture of a flower. I still have that drawing today – edges frayed and colors fading. I will never forget the JOY that I felt for that student that night.
The prospect of possessing what one desires is very rare. All of us can list dozens of things we wish we had. We are really good at identifying things that other people possess, and that we covet! But what do we have, that belongs to only us, that we desire and brings us JOY? That, for me, is my job. I am joyful when I work. I love working with my students. I love coming home and telling my husband about my day. I love thinking, “I’m good at what I do” and “I make a difference in this world”. Those ideas are something I truly desire – and I’ve got it. I love when college students come into my office just to talk. I love teaching children new parts to a song for an upcoming concert. I love hearing reactions of audience members after hearing children sing. I love planning lessons regarding music – making the learning experience fun for my students.
I always knew I wanted to teach. I always knew that I wanted to influence the lives of others. Let’s face it… most teachers knew they were meant to teach at a very early age. How blessed are we, as teachers, to have the job we’ve always desired? Now that’s JOY.
Sure, we see the t-shirts that read, “the best part of teaching: June, July & August”. Yes, I’ll admit, I like my summers, too! But the anticipation of going to work each fall is like no other.
In closing, I just want to summarize this blog by reminding all of the teachers out there… about how much JOY comes with teaching. How we are living examples of a state of happiness; a source or cause of delight; the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, and the prospect of possessing what one desires.
And to remind us all that when struggles or stressful issues arise with teaching, we all need to remember how blessed we are to be in a profession where we can find such JOY each day.
Michelle Swanson is a 1996 Gold Star Award for Outstanding Teaching recipient. She currently teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the conductor of the UNI Children’s Choir, who will be performing at the 2011 Gold Star Awards Ceremony.