Remembering Why I Teach

[This piece was publishing by the Public School Notebook in June.]

I choose to teach in the School District of Philadelphia. I don’t choose to teach in the District because the pay is lower and the physical conditions are worse than comparable suburban teaching jobs, or because class sizes are large and the bureaucracy and daily realities many of my students face often feel insurmountable.

I choose to teach in Philadelphia because my students are wise beyond their years. Their varied experiences, though sometimes painful, add to our classroom and allow us to probe issues deeply in ways that go far beyond theory

I choose to teach here because I don’t have to worry about boring days with nothing to do. Instead I cherish a daily classroom reality filled with spunk and spontaneity. My students take nothing for granted; they challenge me regularly. But when our connections deepen, they stand with me and will take risks beyond what I would have ever done at their age, even as many of them balance life stories that go far beyond what I have dealt with at any age.

This is not an easy time to be a teacher.There is little to encourage people to teach in a struggling, underfunded school district like the School District of Philadelphia. Political speech and media are full of rhetoric about poor teaching and failing schools. My daily experiences contradict the stereotypes about urban education that have become, for many, an accepted truth.

Fortunately, I know that the work that really matters will begin again in September. And then again next September. And hopefully, as the work continues, more people will realize that teachers aren’t enemies and that our state, our city, our school district, and our schools must do better. The work of education, transformation, and growth is messy and challenging. This is all of our work. Young people deserve it. Our society needs it.

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