When I realized I wanted to be a teacher I was about 5 years old. I was not thinking about salary, workload, benefits, or rewards. All I was thinking about was how much I loved teaching. I was thinking about how much fun I was having sharing what I had learned with my “students” (my cousin and my dolls). I was thinking about how much happier I was when “playing school” than when “playing office.”
Now that I have been teaching for 37 years, I realize that I became a teacher because of the intrinsic rewards that come from this profession. I am still teaching because of the opportunities for self-improvement and life-long learning. I am still teaching because I love sharing knowledge and ideas with like-minded individuals. I am still teaching because I am still learning. Someone once told me that “the only job to have is the one that makes you happy.” That job, for me, is teaching.
One of the most rewarding experiences a teacher can have is to encounter his or her former students experiencing happiness and success in their chosen careers. This has happened to me twice in the last few months, and each time I experienced a sense of accomplishment and happiness. I realized that, in some small way, I helped these two former students, and others, accomplish their goals. Therefore, I had also accomplished one of my purposes in being a teacher. They were happy and I was happy for my small part in shaping their lives.
These two encounters are not the only ones I have had in the last 37 years, but they did reinforce once again why I chose a career in teaching. This profession does have a good salary base and good benefits. It does provide great learning experiences. It does have some tangible benefits. And I am very thankful for all of these benefits. But the primary reason for choosing this career and for my remaining in it for so many years is for its intrinsic value, for the value it has added to my life.
--Eleanor K. Sikes is the Interim Chairperson for Middle Grades Education Programs at Fort Valley State University