Growing up, I never wanted to be a teacher. At one time I wanted to be a sports writer; at another, a chaplain. Entering college, I expected to become a marriage and family therapist. Yet, at the end of my first year of college, I was never so certain of this truth: I was made to be an English teacher. The sports writer in me loves words. The chaplain in me loves serving. The therapist in me loves delving into the human condition. For my first two decades of life, I was oblivious to what was in my blood and unaware that teaching was meant to be a great love of my life.
My grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse on the South Dakota prairie and later in a small town of 300. She saved school pictures and even taped them on her kitchen cabinets. Her bookshelves held old textbooks and every Dick and Jane reader. My mother was never a teacher, but she loved learning and has walked the aisle at five graduation ceremonies. A love for teaching and learning was in my genes all along. Even when I was 17 and declared I could and would never be a teacher, the seeds my grandmother and mother planted in me were just three years away from sprouting and bringing me to one of the greatest loves of my life—teaching.
In The Classroom, Students Can Consider Life’s Greatest Questions I love being a teacher because the classroom is a space where students can discover their voices and a love for learning. In our schools students can make greater sense of this world and themselves as they identify with characters and write about weighty experiences and beliefs, as they discover the patterns and solve the puzzles of math and science, as they honor the cultures and leaders studied in social studies and world language classes. In the classroom, we can all turn off the noise of modern life and slow down to consider life’s greatest questions and truths. What I also love about teaching is celebrating how all of my students are smart in different ways. I love that when I meet them where they are, my students can find joy and empowerment in their education. No matter if they are bound for Wellesley or welding, students amaze me every day as they think, learn, grow and honor the process of learning. In their relationships and their classroom work, students are confronting love and loss, courage and cowardice, service and selfishness, and I get to be a part of that. In all these circumstances I, like most teachers, know I will not see the end result of my work. Nevertheless, teachers continue to invest in students’ lives and love them while we have them, for the dividends are not our own but all of society’s. This is why I love my life’s calling. This is why I teach.
Photo courtesy of Gina Benz.
Gina Benz teaches English at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls. She won South Dakota’s Milken Educator Award in October 2015.