Why We Teach – November 5, 2017 Speech by Joanne Davi

First, I want to make sure I thank everybody who took time out of their days to vote for me. In all honesty, this entire moment feels uncomfortable. Teaching is not a job that often comes with public acknowledgement or accolades. The idea of pausing to recognize the work of others is a beautiful practice, I commend OHDS for making it an annual tradition, and – despite my uncomfortableness – I’m deeply appreciative of being on the receiving end and for having the opportunity to give a brief address about my passion for my job.

I’ve taught students in different settings for seven years, but this will be my 5th year as a classroom teacher. That may not seem super significant to most people, but it is. 50% of teachers quit within their first five years. Additionally, each year, 8% of the teaching population chooses to leave the field – that adds up to a few hundred thousand teachers exiting education every year. Teaching presents the unique challenge of both being highly valued and highly criticized and teachers are often labeled both the problem and solution when discussing gaps in children’s education.

So many studies have been done about why teachers leave as if it’s a complicated question. I, as well as any teacher in the room, could give you a litany of reasons for teacher attrition and none of them are secret, or mysterious, or complicated. However, I don’t believe this is a question worth answering – actually, it’s not even worth asking. The question we should be asking is ‘why do teachers stay?” What about the 50% of us who make it through those first five years? What about the 92% of us that come back every year? What is it that convinces us to stay?If we can answer that, then maybe we can take a proactive, instead of reactive approach to this national crisis. Not that anybody has asked me, but I’ve come up with five reasons why teachers stay.

  1. A supportive administration: I count my blessings every day that I have the privilege of working for Tania who always makes herself available to listen, give advice, and provide the validation I occasionally need when I’m full of self doubt. And while I’ve had three Heads of School in the three years I’ve been at OHDS, all of them saw value in me and made sure I knew. I found my voice because they encouraged me to speak up.
  2. Colleagues with a shared passion and commitment to education: This job is physically and emotionally draining, but when I’m surrounded by people who push themselves to new heights, I’m instantly reenergized. My partner-in-crime,, Bebi Bacchus, is not here tonight, but she is the one who lights my fire. We met each other as partner teachers five years ago and formed a friendship based on our love for our kids and education. It is our shared passion that motivates us – despite the amount that we get made fun of – to get to work at 7:30, discuss upcoming lessons at social events, and debate best practices while we play with my son at the park. We keep each other’s motivation alive. To my coworkers – this one is on us. We can choose to lift each other up with positivity or drag each other down with negativity. We have a choice.
  3. Families who work with us for the best interest of their children: Raising children is a heavy and emotional job. Teaching children takes a similar toll on our hearts and minds. While we want nothing more than for every child to succeed, we also know that failure is a developmental necessity; sometimes, a child has to fail in order to develop the soft skills required for life – time management, meeting deadlines, quality over completion etc. It is a part of the learning process. Despite my parental instinct to give a second, third, or fourth chance I know I shouldn’t. When a school’s parent community trusts this process, and works withteachers instead of against them, teachers stay, children learn, and everybody wins.
  4. Understanding partners/spouses who often take a backseat in a teacher’s life: Most teachers work nights, weekends, and – yes – summers, to do everything that could not get done between the hours of 8-4. I’m plagued with guilt every day for the amount of time this job takes me away from my family. My husband has made this job possible for me – he’s the one who convinced me to get my credential, who listens to my lesson plans, tests my essay questions for clarity, de-escalates me on the days I come home crying over one of those litany of reasons, and reminds me why I love my job. There is no way I would be here without him.
  5. Finally, the most important factor – our students. They are everything. They are complicated, emotional, hilarious, loving, frustrating, inspiring – everything. They are reason enough to get up and come to work every day. There is nothing comparable to the moment you get that ‘aha’ moment with a student. When something just clicks. The more time I get with my students versus anybody else at school, the more I love my job. They are everything.

So yes, I told you there are a litany of reasons for teachers to leave, but if we can focus on these five reasons why teachers stay, then we might be able to change the conversation and keep educators who have lost belief in their own value. We can’t make the job any easier, but it’s supposed to be hard. Teaching reminds me of a quote from my favorite movie of all time A League of Their Own, which in case you don’t know, is about women who played professional baseball: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great.”

Thank you again.