Why We Teach

Recently, a school principal approached me after an event and thanked me for speaking to his staff. He added, quietly, “You know, so many of these teachers get into the job for the wrong reasons—the vacations, the time off.”

It’s a sentiment I have, unfortunately, heard before. A popular myth endures that we teachers enjoy copious amounts of downtime, lazing away our afternoons and summers in a blissful dreamscape.

Here is the truth: all of the teachers I have had the privilege to meet worry that there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all that they hope to with students, families, and communities. They lay awake at night trying to figure out how to reach that one student. They fear they can’t be both a great parent and a great teacher.

People don’t choose to become teachers because they are lazy. We choose to become teachers because we are hopeful. Because we believe in the power of education to change people’s lives. Because we love the work.

And make no mistake: the work takes a lot of, well, work. Those afternoons? They’re offset by starting the day at 7:00am for many teachers. Others spend them in faculty meetings or providing one-on-one help to struggling students or coaching teams or supervising clubs or grading student work or planning lessons. Summers are both a sacred time to reflect and recharge and a much-needed opportunity to prepare for the coming year by taking classes, designing curricula, or reading the books we hope our students will fall in love with.

Listening to that principal, I heard a call to action: Tell people the truth about teachers. As educators all over the country return to school, I am embarking on a year of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to represent my fellow teachers as the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. I hope to inspire people to think more deeply about the critical role that teachers play in students’ lives… and the ongoing dedication to our craft that playing that role well requires.


Looking for some inspiration? Check out the hashtag #WhyITeach for teachers' take.

One way to build community within a school is to talk about why you teach together. Teacher2Teacher released this Storytelling Toolkit to help educators gather and share each other's stories.

(September 9, 2017)



Sydney Chaffee