It is a guarantee that if you are a teacher, or ever had a conversation with a teacher, that you’ll engage in the age-old question – why do you teach? This question is the ultimate common denominator for both the person who asks and the person who responds – it’s loaded with personal experiences of comfort and anxiety, respect and disenchantment, challenge and triumph, growth and proficiency. It puts both parties into vulnerable positions of revealing their beliefs about the most humanistic quality – “learning”.
Ok, so maybe I’m reading too much into what is typically a pretty innocuous question, but in my experience, honest and earnest responses to “run of the mill” questions have the most potential to bring about real dialogue – the type of conversation that builds relationships, pushes your thinking, and leaves you feeling just plain old good inside.
I could say:
I teach because I had the privilege of encountering amazing teachers who modeled what it means to be a genuine, amazing human. I teach because I enjoy reading, applying math, and living a self-reliant, academic life. I teach because I have mastered the art of being a lifelong learner. I teach because every day in the classroom brings new experiences. I teach because facilitating groups of young people in their quest to uncover new knowledge is an incredibly exciting, honorable thing to do.
What I choose to say is:
I teach so that the next generation will have the skills and dispositions to overcome the challenges of global climate change.
Is this strategic? Absolutely. Global climate change is the single most urgent issue of the twenty-first century, and I take every available opportunity to open up dialogue about it.
Is this political? You betcha. I am a professional, driven by a focused mission, in a career that too many view as ancillary, uninspired, and failing. I am trying to change that perspective.
The deeper I have dug into this question, the more it becomes apparent that there is no other response that will suffice. The success of communities relies on ensuring that future generations maintain a better standard of living. Teaching the next generation the skills and dispositions to overcome the challenges of global climate change is the only sure bet in attaining that goal.
I encourage everyone to consider this as THE purpose of educating in the twenty-first century. By creating equitable environments, addressing issues of privilege and disparity, and making the intentional shift to teaching transferable skills above all else, we have a shot at truly addressing global climate change and the many issues that result from it – a vast, interconnected web of complex ecological and economical malaise, the magnitude of which the human race has never had to grapple with before.