Start with “Why” when You Teach

You teach. That's WHAT you do. But WHY do you do it?A small word doesn’t get any bigger than “why?”

“Why is the sky blue?”

“Why do I have to eat breakfast?”

“Why do I have to clean my room before going to the dance?”

“Why do I have to go to work at 8am?”

“Why do I have to die before seeing my grandkids grow up?”

And, of us, math students ask: “Why do I have to learn this?”

I’ve talked about answering the question “when am I going to use this?” before. And this “why” question is merely a rewrite of that one.

Why are we here?

All the why questions above pale in comparison to this one: Why are we here?

That’s quite metaphysical for a little ol’ math blog. But consider the question in a more focused light:

Why do we teach?

In the book, Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, he discusses how the “what” and “how” of what companies do isn’t the pull. It’s the “why” that makes people loyal customers.

And that’s the same for us as teachers.

You may teach math. You may teach English. You may be “only” a parent and teach it all.

But all those are WHAT you do. Not WHY you do it.

So WHY do you teach?

I’ve often said that I keep teaching because I like being the center of attention. I like having students look up to me, respect me. I like being the super amazing smart one in the room.

But when I dig deep, that’s just the easy answer. (And I’m often not the smart one in the room.)

My real “why” is that I want people to feel empowered. I want others to stand up tall and be proud of who they are and what they can share with the world.

It just so happens that how I do that is teaching. And what I teach is math.

But why I do it is because I believe these things:

  • Every student has the right to joyfully accept the challenges of mathematics.
  • Every parent has the right to confidently help their children think through challenges of math.
  • Every math teacher has the right to feel inspired when entering a classroom and be met with excited students ready to be engaged.

A bigger “why” to ask…

Last week was Trinity Sunday. The dean at my church, as normal, gave a powerful and entertaining sermon.

He intentionally moved past the “how it works” question of the Trinity. He said, “Maybe instead of trying to explain it, we should focus on why it matters.”

He shared the explanation by God in the book The Shack: “All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within Me.”

This “why” for the Trinity made me think of the “why” for our schools.

Why do WE teach?

Our schools are supposed to make sure our kids learn at a certain pace and level. We want them to graduate and live to be productive members of society.

But all that is the “how” of the schools. If we focus on the “why” – for each of us as well as the school as a community – we might think of our schools a bit differently.

As a school and an individual, do we joyfully accept challenges to learn? Do we encourage confidence by showing respect? Do we inspire and engage each other in the learning process?

Like the Trinity, we are an inclusive model so our students can see what learning and respect look like.

To abuse the quote: “All learning and respect is possible for the students only because it already exists in the school.”

What’s your “why?”

What’s your “why” and what’s the “why” of your school?

Share your thoughts in the comments. And don’t forget to share on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, too.

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