|By Reg Weaver, President, National Education Association
|Within each one of us there is a voice that says, “I am something special…I can make a difference…I have something to give to others!”
Listen to that voice. Honor it. Don’t ever let anyone silence it. And if you are true to your inner voice when it comes to choosing a profession, it will do your heart good. Ignore it, and you’ll end up wondering why you wasted your life.
Whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t underestimate the good you can do. And please do not dismiss the idea of becoming a teacher before giving it serious thought.
Our public schools need you—the student population is growing ever more diverse, but teachers of color are increasingly in short supply. Nearly 40 percent of America’s students are minorities, but just 11 percent of our teachers are.
Our communities need you—the quality of education that our children receive will do more to determine the future of Black people in America than anything else.
Our children need you—they need someone who will inspire them, someone who will hold high expectations for them, someone who will always tell them, “You can do it!”—and that someone could be you.
A while ago, a colleague of mine asked her students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” One student wanted to be a police officer, another wanted to be President, another a doctor. Then she came to Malik and asked, “What do you want to be?” And Malik answered, “I just want to be possible.” She asked, “What do you mean, you want to be possible?” And he explained, “My mother always said that I’m impossible. I want to be possible.”
As a teacher myself for 35 years, I feel a kinship to Malik. I made it my mission to reach out to children like him, and I learned there is tremendous power in the words “I believe in you. I
Bear in mind that teachers do more than teach their academic subjects. They also model appropriate behaviors and teach by personal example. They teach children the value of taking responsibility for themselves and respecting others. They teach children that success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. For many children, teachers are the most important authority figures outside of their homes.
Of course, teaching isn’t for everyone. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. Teaching is challenging work. To tweak a Marine Corps slogan: The few. The proud. The teachers.
But if you decide to become a teacher, I promise you two things.
Number one: At the end of the day, you very well might be tired out, but you won’t feel like your work or life is without meaning. Because when you are an effective teacher, you see it in your kids’ faces…You see it in the fire you kindle in their minds…You see it in the gratitude your students express years later. Like other veteran teachers, I hear from my former students. One, now a successful TV producer, e-mailed me recently and said: “Mr. Weaver, besides my father, you were the most important man in my life.” Other professions don’t tend to generate such responses.
Number two: You will have some outstanding colleagues. Dedicated and caring people are attracted to teaching, and they’re fine folks to be around. The greatest asset teachers bring is that we share our enthusiasm for learning. A few years ago, Margaret Edson, a public elementary school teacher in Atlanta, won the Pulitzer Prize for a play that she had written. She was deluged with question from the press. “Now that you’ve won the Pulitzer, will you quit teaching?” Her response: “I will continue to teach. I love teaching. My kids are going to save the world.”
So I hope you will consider becoming a teacher. And if you do, I hope you will consider joining the NEA Student Program—it will link you to other college students who are preparing to become teachers and help light your way to the classroom. Check out: NEA.org/student-program.
Every child deserves a great public school—that is a fundamental right. And great teachers are what make great public schools great.
In the movie A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More is talking with a young man uncertain about his future. “Be a teacher,” More advises. “And if I am a great teacher, who will know?” asks the young man. More replies: “You. Your pupils. God. Not a bad public that.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. But for the last word on becoming a teacher, we must turn to that great philosopher, Motown’s Smokey Robinson, who sang of giving “a lifetime of devotion.” That’s what teaching is. I second that emotion.
Mr. Weaver is president of the National Education Association, which represents more than 2.7 million teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty across America. This article originally appeared in the Second Semester 2006 issue of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN Magazine, published by IMDiversity, Inc.