Why do I want to teach?
Each year, I interview dozens of candidates who apply to the Faculty’s two initial teacher training programmes: the B.Ed., and the PGDE. Most of the applicants have never taught before. During the interviews, they often talk about their motives for wanting to become teachers. They want to become teachers because they think the work is meaningful and the job will give them a chance to make a difference in students’ lives.
Why we teach
This is the title of a book written by Linda Alston, a master teacher of young children from the Denver area, who has won numerous awards, including the Milken National Educator Award, the Walt Disney American Teacher Award, and the first Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. In Why we Teach, Alston tells us about her life as a teacher for 40 years, and the joy and pathos that come with the work. For an exceptionally dedicated teacher like Alston, the answer to why we teach is solid and clear.
Why am I still teaching?
This is the question asked by Teresa Wong, who has taught for 7 years. For some teachers, this is a critical moment of their professional career. The novelty of teaching that excites beginning teachers has worn off. If they stay in teaching, there is still a long way to go before official retirement age. From this juncture onward, some teachers may put in more hours, lured by the prospects of promotion. But not every teacher will get promoted, at least not in the short run. Some teachers become burned out, get tired of workplace politics, or begin to simply go through the motions.
Why am I still teaching? Why don’t I allow myself to fall into the doldrums? Why don’t I simply quit? These are questions that teachers who have taught for a few years should ask themselves at least once a year.
As Teresa concludes her seventh year of teaching, she asks herself this important question: Why am I still teaching? Of course, every teacher has their own answer. I hope Teresa’s answer will stimulate you to embark on an inner journey of self-reflection and renewal.
“I have just gone through my 7th year as a teacher. As the summer holidays kick off, I guess it’s a good time I reflect on this question – Why am I still teaching?
I have been very lucky since I have had many good and great teachers. I was particularly inspired by my S.1 class teacher Miss Ng (who’s also my English teacher). If not for her, maybe my life would have been quite different. She didn’t do anything special to me, but it was her serious attitude and effective teaching methods that gained my respect and attention. When I moved up to S.2, I actually chatted with her outside class and we established some kind of friendship. I learnt a great deal from her. She could choose to teach the same things the same way every year, but she didn’t. Everything she did, she did it for the best interests of her students.
And then there were teachers that I admired. I developed a strong bonding with some of them while for the others, I respected them as great teachers in my heart. I remember my Form 1 and 3 Maths teacher Miss Winnie Yau, my Form 2 Chinese teacher Miss Chong; my piano teacher Miss Fung (whom I love dearly); my Form 3 Biology teacher Miss Rachel Ng (who has now become my great mentor and close friend); my Form 4-5 and 7 Chemistry teacher Mr Cho; my tutor Yang Yang, who guided me in a general education course when I was in Year 1; Professor Lawrence Wong, who taught me Translation theories and Interpretation skills; Cathy Pickles, an instructor in my Immersion Course who showed me that it is possible to keep one’s passion for teaching for 25 consecutive years; Dr. Paul Sze, my MA teacher who teaches from the heart, truly cares for his students and puts great effort into his work…These people have reconfirmed my concept of what good teachers should be like. They have, in one way or another, shaped me into who I am today.
The principal of the first school I worked in asked me this thought-provoking question during the job interview: “How can you convince yourself or me that you won’t lose your passion in teaching after a few years?” I understood his worries, but I quoted the examples of these great teachers I had encountered to show him that I knew my vocation clearly and that I would be willing to take up the challenge. I always say to myself, if I have lost myself, I won’t be teaching any more…As long as I’m still in the teaching profession, there are values that I must uphold.
I must say my first few years of teaching have been tough. I have had doubts, tears and fear (even up till now). Though I have been teaching in Band 1 schools, some students (and even colleagues) could give me a hard time. Students, especially the girls I am teaching now, sometimes marvel at my ‘patience’ (they call it patience). They would ask, ‘How come you don’t give up on us even when we are about to?’ I don’t know why, but I just think that if you persist, things and people will change for the better. Moreover, I can feel the calling to provide guidance and care for students who need hope and a pat on the back. You cannot imagine how much difference you can make with just a word of encouragement or a look that shows them your trust and confidence in them. I spread kindness, not hatred. I have had quite a few successes and I am proud of being able to do so. The special thing about teacher-student relationships is that it is two-way. You don’t just teach, sometimes you are amazed at what your students can ‘teach’ you back. It is give and take and from this experience, we all grow up.
To all the students I have taught, I truly believe that it was destiny that brought us to the same classroom. You have added colour to my career and you are the reasons for my emotional ups and downs and the increase in white hair(!), but your are also the reasons for my sense of achievement and my purpose of life.
And thanks to the marvellous teachers whom I have met, worked with or are now working with. Your determination, professionalism and support have all confirmed my belief that it is possible to teach and love, to uphold our values and not to lose hope. I know I want to be like one of you!
I don’t really remember who told me this, but I believe that a teacher must love unconditionally and have faith in her students. To love does not mean to let go of your principles; on the contrary, sometimes I am demanding on my students because I care. If you care, you will do more and you will not grumble. No matter how harsh reality is (the education system, the expectations from the school, parents, students and society, heavy workload, health concerns, stress, etc.), we must see hope and know clearly where we are leading our students to. We will face challenges, but as the saying goes, a plane takes off against the wind, not with it. You only see the rainbow after the wind. If we look at the bigger picture, we will know that teachers are very important. If we bear this in mind, we will find the drive and power to stand strong and move on against all odds.
My initials are WOW and I like to see it as the essential qualities for both teachers and students – We need Wisdom, Optimism and most importantly, Will power in order to lead a fulfilling life.
I am blessed, I know it, and I will march forward.
Fellow teachers, let’s march together. You are not alone!