‘I teach because…’

Maribeth Whitehead (Used with permission)
Maribeth Whitehead (Used with permission)

Maribeth Whitehouse has been a special education teacher in the Bronx for nearly a decade. In 2012, she scored in the 99th percentile — better than nearly all other teachers in New York City — on  teacher data reports created through “value added measures”, which supposedly can determine the “value” of a teacher by plugging student standardized test scores into a complicated formula. Yet she told the New York Times’ Michael Winerip that such data is “nonsense” — and she helped organize a protest by other teachers who had top scores because, as she wrote at the time in this piece:

“I came to teaching more than eight years ago by way of the law — having graduated from Fordham Law School in 1992. So I knew full well how intricate, malleable and unreliable evidence could be.”

Whitehouse, who this year is an Astor Fellow at New York University’s Steinhardt School,  wrote a piece in 2012 about why she loves teaching, and that is what I am republishing below. It first appeared on the Learning Matters blog called Why I Teach.

From Maribeth Whitehouse:

I teach because …

…of my students. Each of them is a gift, even if they don’t know it or act like it.

…no matter how good I get, the crafting of an excellent teacher never ends. It demands a lot from me all the time, and I like that.

…there are moments and experiences with my students that are electric, addictive and imprinted in my mind.

…the process of learning to trust one another as teachers and learners is unique and intricately beautiful.

…I can ignite a new passion or enrich a long-held one, the potential of which reaches beyond the limits of my own life.

…our democracy cannot survive without citizens capable of critical analysis. I am proud to be charged with amplifying justice.

…my students stand on the precipice of greatness. Instilling an unwillingness to compromise on excellence, searching for the kernel of their truth, showing them ways to use their talents to improve the lives of others – I am honored to teach life lessons.

…I am challenged daily by my students to grow in compassion and wisdom.

…I can’t do anything else. I don’t mean “can’t” as in “those who can do and those who can’t – teach.” I mean that post-9/11, I couldn’t continue in a job that failed to promote positive transformative change in the world.

…when students accidentally call me “Mom,” I am reminded that guiding children as they mature in thought, word and deed may be the single most important mission ever given to me.

When people hear that I teach special-education students in a South Bronx middle school, they often shake their heads and say, “God bless you.” To which I say, “He already did.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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