Another New Year

This post was inspired by a blog post that my colleague, Leslie Gates, posted last week. Leslie began her 19th year of teaching a few days ago and outlined really eloquently her reasons for returning to the classroom this year. Here’s the challenge. A lot of teachers have decided not to return. They’re retiring early, finding new jobs in other fields, or just taking time off to recharge before making their next move. This “great resignation” (as I’ve heard it called) isn’t just limited to K-12 education. Leslie and I have a bunch of collegiate colleagues on our campus who have chosen to leave. As I walked past the vacant offices on my way to class recently, I asked myself the same question Leslie ponders in her post, “Why am I still doing this?” While Leslie writes about a bunch of factors that influenced her decision to stay, my decision is rooted in a seminal teaching experience I had almost 35 years ago.

Initially, I was going to become an engineer. I was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Engineering and was planning to follow in the steps of my father and brother, who were both successful electrical engineers. That plan was derailed by Frank Craig, a teacher in one of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Frank needed some tutors to work with at-risk students on the weekends and asked if I could help. After I navigated my engineering classes all week, Frank would pick me up on Saturday mornings and I would help students learn math and science. After a while, I realized I enjoyed my Saturday morning tutoring sessions more than my engineering classes. I remember one student (who I’ll call Rachel) who was failing her chemistry class and was close to dropping out of school. After we worked together over several weeks of Saturdays, Rachel was able to raise her chemistry grade to a C. Her emotions were a mix of excitement, pride and relief and I knew that I had played a role in her success. I had made a difference in a student’s life.

It’s that feeling of contributing to someone’s success that motivated me to change majors and enter the teaching profession. At the time, my parents weren’t too crazy about me choosing to become a teacher. They worried about my being able to buy a house or getting burned out. Thankfully, my parents were able to see the joy this career brings to me before they passed away.

So, while others are choosing to leave the profession, I’m going to stick with it. It still brings me a lot of joy. Sure, there are difficult days and I’ll probably write about some of those experiences down the road. For now, I’ll find solace in knowing that I’m playing a role in helping my students learn. I also recognize that each new school year may present an opportunity to make a difference in some student’s life. And I’d like to be here to make that happen.

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