What’s Your Why?

Growing up, my parents held a series of jobs and we moved where the money was.  My mother was a secretary and receptionist by trade and my dad was a salesman of lots of things, sometimes working for others to sell to other companies, and sometimes being self-employed. I think he enjoyed the work for the most part, though he was often frustrated by people and companies who were dishonest.  I think my mother liked most of the jobs she had too, but each job either of them ever had was always a means to an end–a paycheck.

As a kid, I wanted to be a teacher.  The fact that I’d get a paycheck was secondary to the work I hoped to do helping children learn and grow.  My why was not the same as my parents’ had been–I grew up in a time when you were encouraged to find something you enjoy…something that brings you happiness.

For many educators, we have taught so long that we sometimes forget why we wanted to do this work to begin with.  It’s not something we take the time to reflect on, and we are definitely not as awestruck as we were our first few years of teaching.

When I started teaching, I had a wonderful group of kids my first year and I adored each one.  I wanted simply to help kids learn.  The reading ability of this first group of kids ranged from around a 7th or 8th-grade level all the way to a first-grade level.  This made things a bit more complicated, as the texts I used had to be on grade level, not above and not below.  Accommodating with audiobooks for those who struggled to read or more complex text with the same theme or general plotline for those who needed something more weren’t choices I was allowed to explore, and the children reading below grade level received pull out interventions that I was told would help…and I trusted they would, but I wasn’t given anything to do in the classroom to help support that work and I didn’t know to ask.

For the child reading well above grade level and craving something more complex, something deeper, there was no pull-out.  There was no push in.  It was particularly heartbreaking as this clearly (unidentified) gifted child was so very bored but had been raised, as many of us girls are, to be polite and say nothing, simply complying with basic assignments and finishing them quickly so she could get back to her book.

I was a brand new teacher and I didn’t know yet about ways to make things more complex or discuss with more depth of thought or how to scaffold questioning so that everyone would have an access point. My teacher training hadn’t said much about gifted kids except that they know things, work quickly, and need more work to be given to them to keep them busy.  That didn’t feel right to me…and it definitely didn’t do anything for her.  Though I got better the second and third year, the fact that I wasn’t encouraged to challenge those kids who were demonstrating they needed it bothered me.

When I left after my first three years of teaching and joined the community of educators at my current school, my “why” for doing so became evident very quickly through conversations with other staff, parents, and the kids themselves.  It wasn’t to escape really…it was to find a home.  I had never been happy working at a “job.”  I enjoyed aspects of each of them, but they were never going to bring me joy in the long-term.  I needed to be connected to something more, something bigger, and something with a greater purpose.

The journey to our school’s opening was shared with staff today, and through tears and smiles and laughter, the new teachers and returning teachers had a picture painted for them of why we exist at all.  We’re needed.

So I share with you my “why.”

I do this work to be an advocate for gifted kids…the kids who need something different than others, who yearn to learn something new every day.  I do this work to model for them how to become their own advocates as they grow up.

I do this work to help gifted kids learn to think and explore ideas, share learnings in ways that are authentic, not do worksheets or take multiple-choice tests to prove they know information that they can regurgitate easily.

I do this work so that I can learn to be a better teacher…my own learning shouldn’t ever stop…and the kids give me lots of opportunities to learn.

I do this work to be a listening ear and an advocate for parents of gifted kids, who so very often are classified by educators as high-maintenance or delusional about their child’s abilities and whose voices are drowned out by other parents claiming bragging when they share their child’s accomplishments.

I do this work to share what I know and have learned about these kids, their minds and hearts, and their incredible ways of seeing the world with other teachers so that they can learn to recognize them for the amazing young people they are and do what they can to make sure that they learn something new…every single day.

I do this work because I get to support new teachers as they step over the threshold of their new classrooms into a world that is very different than any other they might have chosen.  They have questions.  Lots of questions.  But their questions are quickly turning from where’s the bathroom and how do I make copies to those questions that demonstrate a willingness to grow and learn and serve…  They want to know more about the kids we serve and support…about who they are as human beings, not what they’ll produce when given an assignment and what to do when they don’t.  They want to know the important things about this population of kids…and how to best serve them.

I challenge you to think about those kids you serve as your own school year begins.  do a little journaling and reflection of your own.  What’s your why?

Now, go share it with the new teachers in your own building.  They might not appreciate it in the moment, but I assure you that they will eventually and it might make all the difference in how they grow as an educator and see the work they do with kids.


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