For some reason, I receive an email, about once a week, from an education student looking to ask me questions for an assignment. Being the sucker I am, I almost always take the bait. Here is the first part of two such ‘interviews’… I liked these questions and though I’d share my answers.

1. Why do people, including you, become teachers? What is probably the best reason for becoming a teacher? Should there be a “best” reason?

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I became a teacher because, above all else, I love working with children. It’s not easy, but the rewards are priceless. Personally, I feel if you don’t love and respect children, don’t be a teacher… we’ve got enough of those teachers already (I’ve met a few who don’t even seem to like children). That being said, you have to love teaching. I know that sounds overly simple, but what I mean is, you have to want to push children a little further than they thought possible… find a new way for them to see things and experience the world around them. I love teaching because sitting behind a desk and computer all day long (I know, I’ve done it) is painfully boring. Working with kids, showing them new ways to experience their world, keeps me young and happy.

2. Have the working conditions of teaching in public and private schools changed over the past generation? If so, what are the most challenging aspects of this change?

The most challenging aspect for me is the ramp up in academics. Don’t get me wrong, I realize kids are in school to learn, but the pressure is really on to have higher achieving students. People say first grade is the new second grade and kindergarten is the new first grade… it’s true. When I was in school, kindergarten was all about socialization and some basic literacy and math concepts. Now, my sprouts are expected to be reading and writing at a rather high level by the end of the year. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. Most of them are capable and we still find time to play… yes play, it’s becoming a dirty word in early elementary education, but I still say it is critical to the development of the whole child.

3. The issue of classroom management and discipline remain a challenge to teaching in America. Any ideas, secrets, or pointers regarding this situation?

Don’t let them see you sweat. Seriously. Don’t try to be their friend. You’re their teacher, leader, captain, commander, and personal boo-boo fixer, but when you go down the path of wanting them to ‘like’ you, you’re doomed. Please understand, I truly believe most of my students DO like me, but it’s not because that’s my goal… it’s because I respect them and provide clear and firm boundaries. Kids crave boundaries. Provide them boundaries, stick to your word, and the admiration will flourish.

4. What do you believe are the primary benefits of being a teacher?

Well the health benefits are good… you get lots of candles and knick-knacks around the holidays. All kidding aside, there’s nothing like getting, on average, twenty hugs a day. The pay isn’t good and you won’t always get the respect of your friends (“You teach kindergarten? Oh how cute!” – it’s my job, the kids are cute, my teaching them is not), but the rewards are truly endless. When you feel like you’ve changed the life of a child, pointed them in the right direction, made a difference… that’s it. That’s what teaching is all about.

5. Is teaching in the current moment of standardized state testing and academic accountability more than teaching?

It can add a lot of pressure. The simple fact is, standardized tests are only one snapshot of a child’s learning. It’s a picture of a child at one time on one particular day. Who knows what might be going on in that child’s life. Didn’t sleep well? Parents fighting? Problems on the bus? No money for healthy food this week? Argument with your sibling? Who knows… the moment you define a child (or teacher) by a test score, you devalue them as a whole person. Use data to help your instruction, but don’t let it define a child… or you.

6. If you had to do it over again, would you still be a teacher?

Absolutely. Being a teacher makes me a better person – it’s that simple. I’ve met some amazing teachers, parents, and children.