Why I Stay in Teaching

I never planned to be a teacher. I was headed for law school, for a real career. Teaching was something to "get out of my system." I would teach a couple of years and then go get a real job.

After the first couple of years, I promised myself I would leave when I didn't love my job any more. Twenty-nine years later, that day still has not come.

So, why do I stay?

I stay because I laugh and learn every day. Your children are funny, insightful, and brutally honest. If my shoes don't match my outfit, they tell me. If my argument that Invisible Man is an important twentieth century classic doesn't convince them, they tell me. But they also teach me that writers other than Aristotle effectively employ rhetorical appeals. They have taught me that great literature comes in many different forms -- sometimes even in as unlikely a place as a speech by Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards.

I stay because every single day is different. Some days, my lessons are great, and I have classes of students who are engaged in reading and writing and thinking. Some days, my lessons fall flat, and I realize that I need to start from scratch -- even after 29 years. Each year also offers a new beginning. If my approach last year didn't work so well, I have the opportunity to rework it the next year.

I stay because I love to see your child realize that he or she has learned something -- whether it's how to craft an argumentative thesis sentence or how to understand the effect of repetition in The Declaration of Independence. I love to see your children write well; I love the feeling of reading a well-argued essay, and I love smiling as I write a final "Awesome job!" on a paper on which a student has worked hard.

I stay because I have the unique and wonderful opportunity to write dozens of letters of recommendation to colleges each year. I love explaining how I've seen your kids grow as writers and thinkers and how privileged their chosen university will be to have them enroll.

In 29 years, I've taught honors students, academic students, AP students, IB students, Paideia classes, and classes for students who have never passed an English class -- ever. What I've learned is that ALL students want to succeed, that no student is ever nonchalant (however much it may seem so) about failing a class. Despite popular rhetoric, public schools are not "failing." In fact, in most ways they are succeeding. Today, we keep kids in school who 30 years ago would have left at age 16 to go work on their family's farm. We work hard to accommodate students with family responsibilities that, 30 years ago, would have necessitated that they leave school. We challenge and reach most of the students who walk in our doors. That happens every day because most teachers and administrators I know are smart and motivated and eager. We genuinely want to help your kids grow into the best students and people that they can be.

I stay because what I've learned in 29 years is that I do have a "real" job -- the most real job there is. It's the one that leads to other jobs, that helps to create good thinkers who go on to be productive in our society, and that supports our community as it grows and times change. My job is one of the ones that matters most.

This post originally appeared in the Midtown Raleigh News and is reprinted here with permission.

Babs Nichols teaches English at Broughton High School in Raleigh.