This Is Why I Teach
Teachers face all types of challenges, from a lack of resources to children misbehaving to loads of red tape, that can make anyone lose sight of why they do what they do every day. However, the rewards of teaching are also innumerable. Every teacher is working to change the world, life by life, every day.
Below, four teachers share why they teach:
Richard Orr – The Shepherd Bachelor’s and Master’s in Elementary Education, University of Central Missouri
Educational Specialist, The University of Alabama
Principal, Parkside School (K-8), Coleman County, Alabama
I had the most amazing American History teacher, Ms. Hardman, in 10th grade, and she changed what I wanted to do with my life. Even though I wasn’t a rich kid, she took special interest in me and loved on me. The way she taught made me come alive. I wanted to teach like her and have the same effect on others.
The catch? My dad owned a business his dad had started, and he’d been expecting me to take over all my life. My first year in college, I dutifully pursued a business administration major, but I changed to elementary education by the time I hit my sophomore year. When I told my dad about my decision, he was very upset. But I knew God was calling me to teaching, and I listened to God instead of my dad.
This is my sixth year as a principal and my 10th year in administration. I love education because you see kids’ growth, their struggles and successes, and you become very proud of them for their achievements. I’m blessed with my teachers, my kids, and my parents who make up this community, and I love it. It’s my calling.
Katie Porter – The AdvocateBachelor’s in American Studies, Colby College
Master’s in American Studies, The University of Alabama
Master’s in Secondary Social Science Education, University of Montevallo
Gifted Specialist, Birmingham City Schools, Birmingham, Alabama
My grandmother worked as a teacher in Birmingham, and when I turned four she drove me in her Buick “over the mountain.” As we came down the hill into the city, I saw for the first time black children and low-income housing. That’s when I first learned about inequality and segregation, and how different the lives of other children in the city had been from my own. I wanted to do something to leave the world a better place, and the way I figured I could do the most good was by teaching, just like my grandmother.
I’ve been teaching four years now — I’m a gifted specialist for Birmingham City Schools — and it’s really rewarding. The kids are so rad. One of my students last year, Mango — she’s brilliant — wrote one of her teachers a letter explaining how she needed more from him in the classroom. It was incredibly articulate and well thought out and analyzed the most successful teaching methods and styles. Everyone heard about the letter, and it worked because he started trying to improve. Later, she thanked me because I had always told her if something isn’t right, speak up, and then change can happen.
I love teaching because all children have a valuable story to tell and a meaningful way to contribute to the world. My students leave at the end of the school year with more self-love than when they entered despite often being overlooked, undervalued, and silenced. Once they realize how special they are, they take initiative like Mango did to change their lives and the lives of those around them for the better.
Ally Leonard – The MentorBachelor’s in International Relations and Spanish, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College
Master’s in Secondary Education, The University of Alabama
Head of the Middle School, Altamont School, Birmingham, Alabama
I was a project manager in computer software — feeling like I’d been busting my tail to put money in someone else’s pocket — when my husband started teaching. It brought back all these happy memories of teaching English in Japan and Ecuador right after college, and then I remembered the international training job I had when I returned from abroad that I absolutely loved. I applied to graduate school in education at The University of Alabama and landed my first job as a Spanish teacher in Altamont School. The rest is history — this is my 17th year here!
For me, teaching is all about the kids. I love developing close relationships with my students and sharing my passion for Spanish with them. It’s a unique and special experience when you watch kids improve in not only their grasp of a subject matter you really enjoy, but also as people. It’s very rewarding to be a part of their journey as a mentor. I love coming to work every day.
Charles Ellwood – The ScientistBachelor’s in Biology, Luther College
Master’s in Education, University of Minnesota at Morris
Educational Specialist, The University of Alabama
Science Teacher, Allatoona High School, Acworth, Georgia
“I wish I could go back to school the rest of my life,” I said to my buddies late one night.
We’d been throwing back a couple of drinks, and I was deep in the throes of working through what life had dealt me. It was my 12th year in the bar and restaurant industry, and I wanted something else for my life. My buddy was like, “Why not teaching?” The light came on.
I started thinking about my days as a YMCA camp counselor, and how much fun I had, and I ran home to talk to my wife about whether we could make it happen. She said, “There’s nothing I’d love more” — she hated my late-night hours — and the pieces starting falling into place fairly quickly. I don’t think I’ve ever looked back.
This is my 15th year as a science teacher. I’ve taught everything from biology to physics, astronomy, anatomy, chemistry, etc. I’m high on science.
But one of the best things I like about teaching, aside from the subject matter, is that I get to do something new every day. Just this morning, I was dissecting a sheep’s brain for my class. You’re always thinking about the best ways to reach students, whether it’s sharing something you heard on NPR or going to the Friday night football game, and that breadth of experiences and challenges resonates with me.
I also enjoy how the dramas of adolescence are pretty universal, so I can relate to my students even though I’m pushing 50. When I help students with social or academic issues, or the really personal stuff that sometimes emerges when developing close relationships with students, I feel like I’m making a footprint. I feel a deep sense of joy from those footprints.
If you’re thinking about teaching or furthering your education in teaching, visit The University of Alabama campus and check out the website BamaByDistance.ua.edu that highlights UA’s distance learning degree programs. You can earn a degree from home whose influence and reputation reaches around the globe, learn from world-class faculty, and connect with an extensive alumni network.