During our Teacher Appreciation Week Sweepstakes, we asked educators one simple question: “What inspired you to become a teacher?” In reply, we received over 1,000 thoughtful, motivating, and memorable stories about how teachers, reading specialists, tutors, and special education professionals chose the field of education.
Many individuals were inspired by a special teacher they wanted to emulate, parents who instilled a great respect for education, or a special student who inspired them to further their career. Some individuals were motivated by their own struggle with school or a sibling’s challenges with a learning disability. No matter the motivation, countless entries shared the joy and satisfaction that came with choosing a career in education and reveling in the “ah-ha” moment they see in their students eyes when they’ve done their job well.
We hope you enjoy some of our favorite inspiring, heartfelt, and thought-provoking entries, by teachers in their own words.
A Student Inspires a Career Change
After many years of doing social work I began to believe I could have a greater impact on children’s lives by educating them. I came to see that, rather than helping them access resources because they had a difficult life due to lack of an education, I could help them achieve the education that they needed to succeed. The specific moment in time came when, after many months of working with a Head Start student and his family, the family was evicted and was forced to move outside of my “territory.” The 5-year-old student who attended our program told his parent that he would walk the two and a half miles that would be necessary to get to the bus stop to take him to school. He said it with such conviction and desire to do what he needed to succeed that I was heartbroken to tell him he could not and all because of something so arbitrary as a county line. I knew I had the desire to impact lives through teaching, but the teaching part itself was not my greatest strength until my Wilson training. My Wilson training taught me how to allow the student to work through the learning to make it their own rather than me giving them the answers. Wilson completed my transformation from giving access or information, to giving skills or knowledge so that no services or supports were needed. I am very proud of the teacher I have become and I hope I have impacted positively many lives. Teaching Wilson has done this for me. – Cate P.
A Daughter’s Love Motivates a “Very Late Bloomer”
I am a second year teacher, and a very late bloomer! As a young adult I never considered becoming a teacher. As matter of fact, I didn’t go to college. I got married and worked in banking for quite some time. After many years of trying to start a family, our first child was born with a disability. I gave up my career to be a stay home mom, and once she began school, I volunteered most days and eventually became an employee with the school system. After about nine years of working as an instructional assistant, I went to a meeting where the local community college was introducing a cohort for IA’s to work toward a teaching degree. I spent a little over two years going to the community college at night and graduated with my AAT. I continued to work and go to college at night and after two more years, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with my Bachelor of Arts degree and a dual certification in Elementary Ed/Special Ed. I teach special education students at the elementary level, and I am truly happy with my decision. My inspiration was my daughter! She taught me to love and accept those with differences with no bias. She also taught me to never underestimate the ability of any one human being. I could have never accomplished this feat without the support of my husband and family. Most of all, my grown children are as proud of me as I am of them. I expect my students to give 100%, but if they can’t, I support them and encourage them, and most of all, I love each and every one of them for who they are and what they contribute to our community! I am currently working to complete my Level I certification with Wilson and watching my practicum student grow. How exciting and rewarding!!! – Alletha T.
A Teacher of the Year Shares her Gratitude for her Fourth Grade Teacher
I’m extremely proud to share this reason of why I wanted to become a teacher, because I have worked extremely hard to get to this point in my life. I didn’t start my formal education as a student until the age of 12 due to being shifted from one foster home to another (37 to be exact). I was taken from my biological mom at the age of 2 and placed in an institution for unwanted children. This institution housed mentally handicapped children as well. I spent 7 years there and even carried the label “mentally retarded.” Then, this young couple (age 22) decided to go the adoption route. These people were my 37th foster family. When I went to live with them, I was placed in a special education school for mentally retarded children because they didn’t know much about me at the time. I spent three long years there until I begged my foster parents to let me try public school. The lady that ran the special ed school was determined to keep me with her. She even told my foster parents that “once a retard, always a retard.” She was determined that I would end up back at her school. This was a good motivator for me. After begging for a while, my foster parents looked into the public school situation. That’s when I was introduced to Margaret Leonard, grade 4 teacher. She was amazing and took me under her wing, truly compassionate about my life situation. She worked with me even on the weekends to try to catch me up with the rest of the class. She always had kind words and was a dedicated teacher. She is the one who inspired me to become the teacher I am today. I would thank her every time I saw her, because I wanted her to know what an inspiration she was to me. Not only did I graduate high school, but I went on to college and got degrees in Elementary Education and Special Education. I did 80 hours of volunteer work at an institution for mentally handicapped children. It was my way of giving back since someone decided to take a chance on me. Being in education today has really given me a perspective of where these students come from and their family situations. I’m striving to become the best educator possible. I was given a “Teacher of the Year” award in 2013 and I’m so proud of that honor. I know that Margaret Leonard would be extremely proud of who I’ve become today if she were alive. I owe so much to her for taking a chance on me. I will be forever grateful to her. – Patty R.
A Teacher uses her Background to Encourage Others to “Dare to Dream”
The reason I became a teacher is because I felt that I could really contribute to a child’s life. I know what it’s like to grow up in a low-income community with very few role models. I grew up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and I can honestly say that in my neighborhood only a handful of children went to college. Most of us came from very poor families and had no precedent for high aspirations or contact with teachers who could relate to us and help us see that we could dare to dream. This is where I have an advantage; I know where they are coming from (literally). I can relate to what children in these neighborhoods have to deal with, both on a socio-economic and personal level. I know what it’s like to feel insecure and without direction, but I am living proof that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. I believe that the teaching profession surpasses most in its value to man, because of the tremendously positive role it plays in building a society. I think that two factors that are very important to high academic achievement are self-esteem and high expectations. I know that as a teacher I get to help children seek out and attain knowledge, and also encourage their self-esteem, confidence, and morals. I know that by being a teacher I help children make great strides on the academic plane of life, as well as develop and restore their non-existent or weakened self-esteem. My role as a bilingual teacher helps provide hope for many who have been told there is no hope or who believe, due to the lack of encouragement, that they cannot do well in life or even achieve the American dream. – Marisol P.
Anne Sullivan’s Story Leaves a Lasting Impression
The very first chapter book that I read was a biography of Helen Keller. I remember lying on my mother’s bed on a rainy day in rural Vermont, my eyes burning because I just couldn’t stop reading – I was riveted. Not by Helen Keller’s story, oddly, but by Anne Sullivan’s – her teacher. There is a famous scene were Anne is wearily spelling W-A-T-E-R into Helen’s hand as water pours from a pump. Suddenly, Helen “gets it” – she makes the connection that these gestures, these letters, mean something and it changes her whole life, and eventually, the world. I was excited for Helen Keller, of course. The biography had detailed the frustrating journey – the tantrums, the never-ending repetition of instruction with seemingly no result – so I naturally rejoiced for Helen, the student. But what really intrigued and inspired me was her teacher. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be a teacher – someone who opened up the world to students and led them into the better future of their own making. I begin my 30th year of teaching next year and I am honestly just as excited now as I was with my very first class. I am a learning specialist (aka special educator) now and an educational consultant for an orphan home in Uganda, but it all began when my eyes were opened, through a book, to the wonders of teaching. This quote, by Anne Sullivan, has been on my classroom/office wall since I started teaching and has kept me going and seems to sum up my career so far: “Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose – not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.” – Sara B.
We appreciate all of the personal stories that were shared with us and we hope that they may inspire others to enter one of the most noble professions.