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This week’s feature is Caitlin Vassau, an English teacher at Dixon Middle School. Caitlin teaches for the kids. She loves the idea that she could help her students unlock the potential she sees in them. Here is what she wrote about teaching. I hope you will take the time to read her very touching essay.
Why I Teach…
by Caitlin Vassau
Almost two years ago now, I stepped into what was “ my classroom” for the very first time. Teaching was everything I wanted it to be, but nothing like what I’d expected. Anyone who’s been inside a classroom knows there’s good days and bad days. As I struggled through my first year of teaching, I kept a journal that I actually titled “Why I Teach.” On the bad days, I wanted to be able to look back and remind myself why I was doing what I was doing. I want to share the first entry that I wrote, for it outlines the simple reason why I teach.
September 15, 2016: Almost one full month of teaching down! Teaching is nothing like I thought. I’ve never done something so challenging, time-consuming, frustrating, heart-wrenching, or TERRIBLE in my entire life! I have probably stress-cried more this month than all my months of life together. But guess what? I LOVE IT. (Most of the time). But I’ve kind of figured out that I think that’s just what teaching is. There’s good days and bad. Some days, I come home feeling so happy and accomplished and I just want to scream to the world how much I love teaching! Other days, I come home in tears, feeling like a made a poor life decision, wasted 5 years in college, and could be doing something (anything really) that pays a lot more money and requires a lot less work and where you would get treated a whole lot better. Because let me tell you something. 8th graders… are so mean! They are so rude, so incredibly disrespectful, and so so frustrating. But guess what? I LOVE THEM. Even though sometimes they make me want to pull all my hair out, they are so hilarious, so incredibly bright, and have so much personality and potential to offer this world. And what keeps me going through the bad days is knowing that maybe I’m helping them get one step closer to unlocking that potential. That’s worth everything, right? I think so. So what I’ve decided to do with this journal is to write down the little things that happen, everyday, that make me say “that’s why I do this. That’s why I teach.” Because it’s the little things. And that way, when I have one of those “I made a poor life decision days,” I can look at these and remember why it’s all worth it.
(Essay continued below video.)
That is why I teach. Because on October 14th that student that is always off task and never participates, raised his hand to contribute to the lesson. Because on December 5th, the student that had struggled for the last two months to pass the Theme I Can, finally got it to click and passed. Because on February 3rd, the student who tries to sit on his phone all day in class and tells you how boring everything you do is and how much he hates your class, walked out of class at the end of the period with the words “Thank You, Miss Dixon.” Because the summer after I completed my first year of teaching, I got an email from a student that said she had had such a hard year and went through so many things, and that she truly would not be here were it not for my kind words and encouragement, and knowing that I cared.
Teaching is hard. There are many bad days, and many days that you feel inadequate and overworked. But the one thing that keeps me going is the students. My kids. My students are 13 and 14 years olds who have gone through way more than a 13 or 14 year old should ever have to go through. We don’t have a lot of good role models left, yet we live in a world where we need them the most. I truly believe teaching is one of the most important and honorable professions, but I do not do it to gain that honor. I do it because my kids need it. They need someone who is passionate about what they are doing, and passionate about who they are doing it for. Someone who will take the time to give them time. Time to learn, time to grow, and time to notice and see the potential in them and help them to see it in themselves. These kids need this. And that, simply, is why I teach.