WHY I TEACH

Letting the Inspiration Flow

A spoken word event reveals how teachers and students can inspire each other.

Carrie Craven is a middle school English teacher in Louisiana.
Craven is a middle school English teacher in Louisiana. Photography by Richard Olivier

Toward the end of the school year, our students hosted a spoken word event. A couple of staff members performed, but the main show was the kids. Most of them had never performed poetry before. Many of them were wary of getting up to share schoolwork with their classmates. During the noncompetitive slam, confident and shy students alike shared their observations, feelings, pleas and confessions.

The only white boy in the 8th grade shared an emotional ode-slash-critique about a friend who had dropped out of school. A girl who identifies as queer performed a poem about love: her main point that everyone deserves to receive it, no matter her individual circumstances. Students performed pieces about self-doubt, stereotypes, uniqueness and overcoming poverty. 

After the event, students praised each other with a maturity they don’t always demonstrate. It reminded me that our job is to give students the space and the tools they need to be their best selves. When we provide them with a way to share their truths, they will.

The energy I felt after that event reminds me why I teach. Students and teachers can have a symbiotic relationship. We can inspire each other. 

My motive to teach came a little bit from each of these:
Indignation, 
Inspiration, 
Frustration with all those too exhausted, resigned or uninterested
To actively pursue
Justice.
I chose teaching because where else but in schools do you encounter so many growing minds and hearts?  
I teach because, like Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” 
Because I can’t help but notice an inverse correlation between levels of education and levels of incarceration.
On the other hand, many other jobs, which require a diploma certifying a certain graduation, seem to me utterly unappealing, 
Small-minded centers of stagnation.
I teach because too many adolescents are still 
Unable 
To read.
Because I feel it is the duty of a nation to give children what they need.
I teach because it was only 50 or so years ago that schools were legally segregated, 
And today a growing number of schools
just so happen to be. 
And it “just so happens” that students of color struggle more than white students in our schools, and standardized tests— 
Evidence strongly suggests—
Are biased
Against them.
I teach because it was schoolchildren who mobilized in Alabama and got the attention of the nation.
I want every kid to know about that.
I want to instill in them that determination.
That bravery,
That energy …
Because I believe my children, my students,
Can rally that same energy
and effect national change. 
They will.
I teach because there are ideas that need to be shared 
That aren’t found in textbooks.
I teach what I know the best I can.
I think children have the right to expect that of us.
I teach because for some kids,
I am one of very few adults who checks
in with them 
If they don’t look like they’re doing all right.
I’m someone they can talk to
about the chaos in their neighborhood
the previous night.
I teach because Gandhi said that if you want something to change, then do it.
I teach because I think youth is a magical state, and I like being nearer to it. 
I teach because we all have stories worth telling.
We all deserve the ear of someone who cares.
I teach because teachers helped me build my own story,
And all children 
Deserve the tools 
To tell theirs.

Share Your Story

We want to hear what motivates you to get up each morning and serve students in our nation's schools. Send your 600-word submission for the "Why I Teach" column to us here.