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Why I Teach

Having an idea is common, acting upon that idea is occasional. Many teachers have an idea of what kind of teacher 
they are or the one they hope to become. As stated in the film Fury about World War II tankers, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” The reality of the situation is that having an idea of who you are as a teacher is nice, but not worth much. I have more than an idea of myself as a teacher. I know what type of teacher I am.
In the past years I have been involved with the Professional Development Schools (PDS) student teaching program. I began my journey scared and timid in August 2014 as I walked into Fieldcrest High School for the first time. I could not help but notice all the differences from the high school I had attended. First off, the school was extremely small and in a rural area with farms covering the town lines. Second, it almost did not need to be said, how much this town was involved in high school football, which I made a mental note about so I could establish a good rapport with my students. The most surprising thing however, came to me much later in the year, when I realized, this rural farm school has many of the same needs, problems and strengths as that of an urban school. 90% were poor and on free and reduced lunch. Many students, over half, had no intentions of going to college. Textbooks, pencils, and resources at home were scarce. A world view outside of their own was almost nowhere to be found. Being at a rural school in middle of ‘nowhere’ Illinois only reaffirmed my strong desire to teach inside the city of Chicago.   

I am a teacher that is mission driven and passionate. I have wanted to teach history since I was about eight years old and suddenly became obsessed with the titanic. I read books, watched documentaries and even saw the traveling exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Since this moment, I never saw myself doing anything else. As some of my previous history teachers have inspired me, I hope to be that inspiration, or that spark that goes off in my students’ heads where it all comes together. That ‘lightbulb’ moment. Every student has their own idea of what it means to be successful. As a teacher it is key to guide students to success, knowing that every student, no matter what circumstances, can reach his or her own idea of success. They do not have to get an A on every test, we would like them to, but that is not a reality, nor should it be. It is the small victories that count and the ones that make me proud as a teacher. 

My enthusiasm and passion for history comes through the most when I am trying to get others to have the same enthusiasm. This enthusiasm is a key part of my teaching. I believe that if I was not enthusiastic about my subject, my lesson or my students, teaching would be awful. Not only for me but for my students too. Energy is contagious, when the teacher gets excited about a lesson or subject, it makes the students feel as if there is something to get excited about. This excitement usually turns into interest because the students want to know why it makes the teacher so excited. From my own experience teaching, and experience being a student, I have never been more engaged than when the teacher was energetic and happy. The same goes for my students. Of course, we all have off days but my students turn in more work and participate in discussion when I get excited, pumped up and basically make a fool of myself. If that is what it takes to peak their interest, then why not? If I can get a student who is usually quiet and guarded to actively participate and be excited, then in some fashion I have achieved a victory, regardless of how small. 

In an ideal world, I would absolutely love to teach history in a thematic sense. Meaning, I would not necessarily go in chronological order through events, but instead by themes. Using this thematic approach gives students more of an idea of what history is actually like. Where in a chronological approach, it is harder for students to think outside the box and understand that history is a continual process. History is full of debates and intrigue which are much better suited for a thematic organization. Themes could include; war, politics, economy, race, etc. As David Christian discusses in his book, “This Fleeting World,” A big history is better when it is small. Being able to place notable events, people, places and ideas within a larger framework of a theme that students understand pushes their minds to make connections between concepts from different eras. Connections help students understand why these ideas are important, how they relate to today’s society and most importantly, how history relates to them personally. If a student makes a connection personally with a historical concept, it will be hard for them to forget and they are automatically more interested.

Moving forward in my career as a teacher I will continue to learn and improve. I believe that learning how to teach never really stops. Being able to pick up new technology, ideas or curriculum and integrating it smoothly into the classroom takes flexibility and organization. I try my best to read a book related to teaching or history at least once a month. Ideas, strategies and materials never stop changing and it is important to me to try and be aware and open to these changes as much as possible. I know for a fact I will be a lifelong learner, always with my nose in a book. Hopefully this bookworm trait will help me come up with new ideas and even more exciting ways to teach and connect with my students.

My mission, enthusiasm and thematic approach are all keys to my identity as a teacher. They help me to be effective in my teaching as well as open up doors for me to continue to improve my teaching. Through my experience I have found that I am the most proud of the ‘small’ accomplishments of my students; a quiet student getting into a discussion, another student spending a weekend writing a paper because she loves the topic, or a student who never turned anything in, but with a bit of encouragement is on his way to an A. These victories are what I teach for. These victories are why I never give up on a student. These victories make me an enthusiastic, mission driven and thematic teacher. 
Zoe P
Experienced Education Grad Tutor
Illinois State University
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