Find Your Why: Teaching in Challenging Times

What is my Why?
I teach to inspire my students to use their knowledge and voice to make the world a better place. The purpose of being a powerful reader, writer, and speaker is not just to do well academically, but to use those skills to make a change and inspire others to do the same.

I am coming to the end of my 29th year of teaching, my first at Health Sciences Middle School. People have often asked why I made the move from a public school district to a public charter site, and in these political times, the question comes up almost every time I talk about my role in education. My move to a public charter was not because I was unhappy with public schools. Rather, it was an opportunity to work with my SDSU doctoral professors on a daily basis, work with a new staff with new ideas in an urban neighborhood that needs people who are passionate about the kids, their issues, and to inspire kids to do more, be more. Could I have done it at my previous site and district? Yes and no. Working at this particular site allows for more experimentation and professional freedom than I had working for a district. Going from a school site of over 900 to a school of 125 middle schoolers was the change I needed.

Here are some basic answers to common questions.Is it easier? No. Do we pick our students? No. Are kids more motivated? Less motivated? The answer is this, kids are kids, and working in any urban environment requires a passion and persistence that keeps me excited about going to work every day. Do you regret leaving the district? No, I enjoy being part of a family of educators that make decisions daily that set the tone and academic rigor and program in ways I could not in a larger system. It hasn’t been easy, but definitely worth it. I have learned a lot this first year, and hope that my experience has brought a new perspective to their work as well.

Here is an example of what makes teaching great this year. Inspiring kids to read, write and now act upon things they are passionate about. This year my students read Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde and after finishing the novel I challenged each of them to create a project that would make a difference in the world just like the teacher in the book asked his class to do.  Over the next few days, I will be sharing the work of a variety of students who took the challenge to heart and ran with it.

Meet Linzeyht and Lucero, two young women who are passionate about making a difference in the world by providing assistance and support to the homeless in our community. City Heights is an area where some of the homeless reside. These two young ladies have spent the year researching ways in which to help the homeless in our community, raised some funds through food sales at school to make a donation to Father Joes, a community outreach center that supports homeless families and individuals. They are presenting what they have learned about the homeless situation in our city and will be sharing information and ways in which we can all step up and help in big and small ways at our school Symposium next week.

But this isn’t just a project to these young women. Health Sciences Middle School students worked at Father Joe’s and the Ronald McDonald House last year serving meals to families who needed our support. The program did not continue this year, but that did not stop these young ladies. This is a photo of the three of us at Father Joe’s yesterday at 5:30 am, serving breakfast to clients at the shelter. These young women were kind, and positive and responsible. They not only served breakfast but at the end of the shift they sat with a family with a few little ones and helped out and had a morning chat with the kids. Unlike so many adults I know, they didn’t judge. They didn’t have pity either. They see these families for who they are, good people who are struggling to make things work.  So what is my why? Teaching my students to ask themselves that very question, and then supporting them as they strive to follow that passion wherever it leads.




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