Why Teachers Teach

Why I Teach!!

Teachers teach for the same reason Paul McCartney (73) still performs in concerts, Helen Mirren (70) still acts on the stage, TV and movies.  It’s the thrill and the challenge of capturing the attention and appreciation of their audience.

Why Teachers Teach?  There is a thrill in teaching. You get to school early, get organized where your ducks are in a row, quacking on 1 and 3, your game face is on and you are raring to go. The students come into class and they slowly settled down and then the teacher begins. . . ..  There are lessons where the students eyes never leave you and they listen to your every word; you just know, “I’ve got them”.  It’s a magical, wonderful thrill that motivates you to create the next lesson that as my evaluator once described, “Janet you had them, you could have heard a mouse pee on cotton.”    I’m convinced the best teachers are great performers; they have to be.  How else do they capture a student’s imagination, move them emotionally to make decisions, change behavior, try something new and soldier thru something difficult.  The biggest complaint teachers have is, students just want the answer or they are waiting for someone to give them the correct answer so they can write it down, memorize it for the test, then forget it.

There are seminars where National or State Teachers of the Year demonstrate how they teach.  What they do extremely well is engage students.  I used to mock the word ENGAGE (it was the new vocabulary word describing the newest best way to teach) until I realized that ENGAGE meant to capture their imagination.  When someone’s imagination is captured they begin to think, relate, evaluate, feel, and sometimes make decisions.   If you get two thinkers together, they spark each other’s imagination and together they create something bigger than what they would have produced on their own.   You don’t forget what you created, you get excited and share it with someone else and they get excited.

The one thing I learned from these great teachers was that information is remembered, when it is interwoven within a relatable story that activates the imagination.  Facts alone are just information; information can be boring, abstract and thus ignored or forgotten.  I use literature, Dear Abby columns, music (every generation’s poetry) and / or a music video to tell a story that involves people.  The stories are about people’s choices -- sexual, relational, drugs etc. The thing about stories, you see the good, the bad, the right decisions, and the wrong decision.  It allows you to think about how you would handle similar situations.    Bullets of information don’t do that.

Nobody wants the bad stuff.  There is something inside of us that desires the Good or Courageous -- character traits we referred to as Beautiful when we see them in others.   When children read or view C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, nobody wants to be the Evil White Witch because SHE IS EVIL, the reader / viewer cringes when Edmund falls under the White Witch’s spell to reveal his character of selfishness, deception and betrayal and something is learned.  “I don’t want to be like that.  I don’t want to do stuff like that.  It’s not beautiful. I want to be beautiful." 

Here is an example of a resource I used during my Marijuana Unit to elicit the same emotion in my students.

Google — The Truth about Drugs -- Real People, Real stories.  Copy and paste this link into your web browser.  www.cultureunplugged.com/play/3815

This online documentary shows 13 segments plus 16 public service announcements each segment is approximately 7 to 8 minutes long (totaling 102 minutes – a great thing about this is that you can pick the best stories for your class and not spend all 102 minutes).  It is a short and sweet summary of drugs; what they are, what they are made of, what they look like.  It is made up entirely of teenage drug users talking about their experiences -- the age they started -- what their friends said to encourage them to start, how the drug affected them, what drugs took away from them, all the lost opportunities and the people they hurt and the relationships they destroyed.  My favorite is the Marijuana segment -- at the end a boy says “I should be graduating from college, getting a good job, instead I got nothing for all the time and money I spent”.  (The students get the picture.)

You see and feel his total despair —  "I could have been somebody" is running through his head.

This is an opportunity to get students thinking about their future. This is when I have them pull out their previously completed Goal Setting activity worksheets.

OK, how many wrote down, "I want to be 22 and have absolutely nothing to show for all the time and money I spent"?

From experience I can tell you, THIS IS NO ONE’S GOAL.

My response usually is something like — “Well, why not?”  (the answer is—when you are doing what you aren’t suppose to do, you are counting on a. not getting hurt and b. your ability to manage outcomes.

And the conversation begins.

Here is a short written assignment to guide students in their thinking concerning decision making about goals.

Everybody thinks they are so special, they can manage outcomes.  Nobody plans on being addicted to (take your pick) tobacco, gambling, pornography, illegal drugs, or abuse of prescription drugs.

What are you going to do when the friends you hang with introduce you to any of the temptations listed  above?  What are you going to say in order to slide away, feel good about yourself and maintain your cool factor?

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