Why I Teach
The perspective of a Science Teacher with special students...
It is 6:30 on a Monday morning as a role over to snooze my second alarm. I’ve never been a morning person; I like to stay up late and sleep later. But as hard as it is I roll out of bed to start my day. I get the kids up to start their school day as well while my wife fixes us some sandwiches for our lunch’s packing in some special treats and notes telling us how much she loves us. She stands at the door holding the baby as we the rest of us load up into the car to head to school. Yep, I am a teacher, a science teacher to be specific, but the school I teach for is special.
You see the school I teach at is a private school for students who have autism, dyslexia, depression, or some other learning challenge that makes a traditional high school a very difficult place. It is a place I firmly believe is needed because the kids are brilliant, all of them in their own ways. But as the old saying goes, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” A lot of the kids I work with daily tell me all the time they are just not smart enough, even some of them who are doing well. It all comes down to a system that is not designed for their individual needs. I always tell them how smart they are because I see it, even when they cannot.
Student like them are special to me because when I was young my brother was diagnose with Dyslexia and in the 90’s they did not have special schools for kids like him. He was shipped off to SPED classes and held back in school. I remember trying to help him read his homework assignments in the car ride home from school every day and him crying because he just could not read it for himself. Thankfully my own parents found some help, driving us both of us over one hundred miles twice a week so my brother could get therapy. I say both of us because I had been misdiagnosed with ADHD which turned out to be an eye motor deficiency that affected my depth perception. It turns out I was not “zoning out,” at school like my teachers thought I was, I was struggling to read the board and then had to wait for my paper or book to come into focus on my desk. When I say wait, I mean wait, agonizing seconds would tick by as the teacher kept teaching and I waited for the lines on my sheet of paper to focus so I could write down my math work the teacher asked me to copy from the board. These kids are special because when I see them, I see myself and my brother and I want to help them because someone helped me. We both needed this school but it simply did not exist yet.
Of course, as I drive to school, I look in the back seat and see the main reason I teach, my son and daughter. I still remember attending that end of the year kindergarten meeting and my sons teacher telling us he would not be moving on to first grade. I knew exactly why; I could see all the signs of the struggles of my own brother in him trying to memorize hundreds of sight words despite his inability to visually process like other kids. My wife and I did not wait and immediately began to explore options to help him. At first, we found a private therapist and home schooled his other subjects for a year before we found the school. He would have to wait one more year before he could go, at the time the school only went down to third grade. But a funny thing happened after we enquired about enrollment. My son’s therapist mentioned that the school was looking for a High school science teacher.
Now, I have never in my life considered teaching as a vocation. I have had several careers ranging from physical labor jobs to laboratory appointments, but I have never worked in academics. I graduated with a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry, so I was qualified to teach high school science, I had just never considered it. I decided to give it a try and pursued a teaching license. In just a few weeks I was teaching Chemistry to my first class. Being a private specialized school, my first class had five students. Two seniors, two juniors and one freshman. All of them smart but each with unique learning challenges. It was a blast and before long I was teaching all the schools science classes. In fact, this year I am teaching six science classes each one with about ten students in it. Two of those students are my own children, my oldest in Chemistry and my youngest in sixth grade science.
I love the “aha!” moment the most. The exact moment when something unknown not only becomes known but understood. It is inspiring to see a student who says “he can’t” succeed. I also love seeing graduated students who run to me and embrace me, telling me they miss my classes and thanking me for all the work I put into them. But the cherry on top is getting to drive my kids to school and being there the whole day to watch them learn and grow. They are both so smart and I am motivated to work harder because they are an example of perseverance to me.
It is easy to see that I love what I do. My students come from all walks of life and with backgrounds that led them to be ignored, mistreated, or even bored at the schools they used to attend. But now they find their needs met and it is a challenge to plan one lesson for ten kids who are all so different. But when it all comes together it is a great feeling that I would not trade for any other. For every Father’s Day card I have gotten from a student to every piece of student art hung on my wall I feel truly blessed to invest so much in their future and see them soar to heights they hardly believed possible. Being a teacher is an amazing job, it is hard work, and you never really get days of even weekends off. But you change lives every day and very few jobs offer that level of satisfaction.