‘I teach because’: 7 educators on why they teach

Has anyone ever asked you why you teach? What did you say? Maybe you said, “I teach because I love seeing aha moments,” or, “I teach because I want to support kids who might not have support anywhere else.”

Whatever your reason, our hats are off to you. Teaching is without a doubt one of the most demanding professions today. Not only are teachers tasked with imparting knowledge to students, they’re also responsible for keeping students safe, calming anxieties, and doling out doses of comfort and love.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week this week, we asked teachers to share with us why they teach. What motivates them? What made them want to become an educator? What keeps them in the classroom and in school?

We asked, you answered: “I teach because…”






Davey Sapinski, Tech Ed Teacher at Medford Area Senior High, Summer Educator at Rural Virtual Academy & Rescue Captain Medford Area Fire Department (via LinkedIn):
I teach for many reasons. Each student has many possibilities within themselves. I teach to help cultivate those possibilities into realities.

Substitute teachers make a huge difference as well. Swing Education gathered input from substitutes on why they teach:
“I sub because in the school I go to there aren’t many teachers that look like the students in the schools. I have had students surprised by having a black male sub and how it positively affects classroom behavior. I appreciate the flexibility in schedule and to just be present in these classrooms and students appreciate it. I feel like I am able to make an impact.”
–Mike B


Essential steps to develop a district safety plan

On December 14, 2012, the planning of the late Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, principal of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, saved the lives of 12 students during what CBS News called “one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.” Previously, she had taught students an emergency escape route out of the school. So, when the perpetrator’s semi-automatic rifle jammed, those 12 students who had been in his sights seized the opportunity and used the route to get away. That incident demonstrates the enormous benefit of district safety planning: In a crisis, people will know what action to take rather than trying to figure out what to do in the midst of chaos.

In order to accomplish this, the district safety plan should be digitized and available on all staff computers and to all staff members—even coaches, advisors, midyear hires, and substitutes. It is essential that every staff member understands what to do during an emergency.

Of course, there are tasks you’ll need to undertake before reaching that point, and I’ve outlined three essential ones below: developing the plan, holding “courageous conversations,” and no- to low-cost enhancements.

Developing a district safety plan

An effective safety plan is shaped by a variety of knowledge, experience, and perspectives on the different aspects of a potential emergency. The best way to achieve this is to assemble a multidisciplinary team that meets on a monthly basis. Team members should consist of these three main groups:

  • Government agencies, e.g., law enforcement, the fire department, and/or the emergency medical field
  • School personnel – administrators, educators, counselors, and legal counsel
  • Community representatives – students, parents, and community leaders

While each district should devise a safety plan that accommodates its particular circumstances, below are eight common factors that should be considered while developing your plan.

  1. Delegation: School leaders need to consider to whom they can delegate tasks during and after an incident and establish how the central office and cabinet will continue to function
  2. The chain of command for incident response: Everyone needs to know who will be in charge until first responders arrive
  3. Reunification processes: This includes evacuating the building, locations for harboring students, and procedures for reuniting them with their parents
  4. Communication: The school leader should be the primary communicator, particularly with parents, so they need to consider the response team and technology (e.g., mobile apps, social media, backup communications systems) they’d require for crisis communications
  5. Press protocols
  6. Self-care for crisis leaders
  7. Debriefing: “Frontline” staff are one of the key groups from whom you will gain insights on an incident
  8. Managing recovery: No two recoveries will be alike

How online learning helps students pursue their passions

As a high school principal at an international school, I want students to successful and well supported if they journey into online learning. Our students in grades 11 and 12 can take online classes for the IB Diploma Program (DP), and we partner with The Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.) to prepare them for the high-stakes online DP courses, as well as to better prepare them for the online learning that they will inevitably engage in at university and/or careers.

Taking online courses with VHS not only helps students get comfortable working online, but it also exposes them to opportunities we can’t offer. As a smaller international school, we cannot provide as many options as a larger institution can. VHS greatly increases the diversity and choice for our students, allowing them to pursue their individual passions.

We also benefit from VHS at a pragmatic level. Enabling students to take online classes allows more flexibility in our scheduling and allows greater chances for students to get the options they want in terms of our internally taught classes. Here are five other reasons districts and schools should add online learning to their curriculum offerings.

5 reasons to add online learning to your school

1. Students respond well when they have choices.
At every level, the idea of student choice is important, as it enables students to take responsibility for their learning. Giving students access to a wide variety of new subjects online allows them to exercise choice and gives them a stake in their own education; this choice means that students buy a little bit more into what they are doing. They are going to be more passionate about what they have chosen to do, and this will improve their learning.


4 fun ways principals can boost teacher self-care

Teachers are very giving people. I read an article the other day that said educators have the most unpaid overtime of any job in the world. And it’s true: We get here at 6:30 in the morning, and most of us leave at 6:30 in the evening. We give so much of ourselves to our students.

Everything we do in schools is aimed at benefitting students, but honestly, if teachers can’t be their best selves, be healthy, and practice self-care, then we can’t expect them to be the best teachers they can be. As we move into the stressful period before testing and the end of the year, I always tell them to remember the safety demonstration that flight attendants do on airplanes: If something goes wrong, you put your own oxygen mask on first, and then put it on your children.

4 ways to boost teacher self-care

1. Word of the Year

At the beginning of the year, we took our teachers through a process of picking one word that they wanted to focus on throughout the year. A lot of teachers choose “balance.” My word was “enjoy,” because I feel like I’m always jumping around 90 miles an hour and living six months ahead, and I really do want to slow down and just be present in the moment more.

Every week we do an activity around these words, and my teachers journal about it. We gave them a journal that they could decorate, and every week we give them a prompt to write about based on one of the 7 Mindsets. Then we come together and share out about their word, what it means to them, and how they’re doing. This way, they’re learning the same sort of social-emotional skills that they’re teaching their students.


How STEM learning invigorates classrooms

eSchool News (eSN) recently spoke with Vince Bertram, the chief executive officer of Project Lead The Way (PLTW)—an organization that has been bringing real-world and hands-on STEM learning into the classroom for 22 years—about the importance of STEM education. PLTW creates an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empowers students to develop the in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive. The organization also provides teachers with the training, resources, and support they need to engage students in real-world learning.

A look at how STEM learning invigorates classrooms

eSN: How do you look at STEM ed?

PLTW: I think schools look at STEM ed as discrete subjects, but we think of it as a foundation to our economy and how STEM connects to every industry. From a student perspective, it’s not just learning math for the sake of it but understanding the relevance of math and science in an applied way. Hands-on activities that connect with real-world examples make it relevant. We can give lots of examples to the “When will I use this again” question.

We want to help students develop transferrable high-demand skills: to communicate, collaborate, think creatively, and have ethical reasoning skills. Those are learned skills, and that’s where we’re focused.

Related: 11 educators share how they bring coding into the classroom

STEM isn’t just for kids going into STEM careers; STEM skills can be applied across the curriculum. Think about the arts. The arts are made possible because of STEM. We make paintbrushes and paint and canvas; we use technology, math, science, and engineering to create sculptures. Performing arts includes set design, costume design, and acoustical panels, and STEM is part of how we create all this. We need everyone to see all those connections and for students to have a much broader understanding.

eSN: What about computer science? What role does that play?

PLTW: Only 35 percent of computer science majors work in the tech industry, which mean that 65 percent work for all other industries. With a CS degree you can work in virtually any industry. Even if you go into visual arts, you have to understand the composition of paints and metallics, which is science.

Part of our challenge is the professional development of teachers. We have to help them understand how it connects.

eSN: How can we help teachers better understand the connection?

PLTW: Teacher training is more than a transfer of knowledge; it’s a fundamental change in how teachers deliver classroom instruction. For years, we taught teachers to be performers, to share information, to be the center of knowledge. PLTW does the opposite—we make the learner take responsibility for their learning.

We tell teachers: ‘You’ll know you’re making progress when students ask questions that you don’t know the answer to. That’s how new knowledge is created.’

If you don’t know the answer, tell your students and say, ‘Let’s figure it out.’ Companies spend billions of dollars in R&D because they are trying to answer questions and find new ways of doing things. It’s the same with research universities. Let’s create those kinds of labs in America’s classrooms and nurture curiosity so students think deeply—give students room to explore, be curious, and try to answer questions.

As Amaira Canas Padilla, one of our PLTW teachers in the Klein Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, so aptly put it: ‘Teaching PLTW was more of using the right opportunity to give of the right question than giving of right answers. It was more of teaching how to find the answers and become independent and lifelong learners rather than just teaching a direct concept.’

eSN: What if a teacher wants to do some of this work but is in a district that doesn’t offer it?

PLTW: If funding is a problem, we provide a lot of grant opportunities. I encourage districts to start by rethinking teacher PD. It should be about the skills you want to help teachers develop and the knowledge you want them to have—not just the curriculum. The #1 thing I’d focus on: How do we make all classes relevant to our students?

eSN: Can you share examples of standout districts within the PLTW network for our readers?

PLTW: Absolutely. There are lots of districts doing great work. We recently announced our 2019 educational leader and teacher of the year recipients and maintain an ongoing list of distinguished schools and districts. A few additional districts that immediately come to mind: Barren County School District in Kentucky, which is doing terrific work around career pathways and expanding career learning; Orange County Public Schools in Florida, which partnered with Lockheed Martin to expand its STEM offerings; and Klein ISD, which continues to partner with Chevron to provide comprehensive K-12 curricular pathways in STEM learning.

In fact, Klein ISD was recently selected to host a district-wide showcase to demonstrate its successful implementation of PLTW programs and the strong STEM culture it’s fostered. Klein ISD’s director of career & technical education, Deborah Bronner-Westerduin, has seen firsthand how establishing a STEM foundation and pathway has encouraged continued STEM learning: ‘In Klein ISD, we believe that every student enters with a promise and exits with a purpose. For the last three years, Klein ISD has offered the PLTW Gateway for eighth-grade students. We are now seeing a significant rise in engineering course enrollment at all five of our high schools. I believe this is can be attributed to the project-based experience students are receiving at the intermediate level.’


4 reasons to start K-5 computer science and computational thinking

The push for computer science education and computational thinking in K-12 schools is spreading across the nation, but many districts struggle with equity issues as they ensure economically disadvantaged students and students with special needs have access to the same resources.

Springfield (MA) Public Schools (SPS) is committed to ensuring all students in the district are able to learn computer science and computational thinking, and during a CoSN 2019 session, Paul Foster, the district’s chief information officer, outlined how SPS is taking steps to ensure equity of access for all students.

“While we’re in this movement of computer science for all, what happens to districts like Springfield?” Foster asked, noting the district’s 21.9 percent special education and 77 percent economically disadvantaged rates. “The suburbs are always out in front and they always go faster than us. If we want to broaden participation in the computer science field, it’s districts like Springfield where we have to get ahead of the curve.”

Read more: Why leveraging computer science is crucial to every classroom

SPS is in the middle of a multi-year process focusing not just on computer science education in its classrooms, but on expanding diversity in computer science and identifying the best ways to help administrators and teachers become comfortable with teaching the concepts of computer science and computational thinking.