“I didn’t have the best upbringing, but I didn’t have the worst.”
This blog post reflects (either verbatim or in spirit) conversations I have with my students from time to time. The sharing that occurs in my health room is cyclical and reciprocated. Like most of you, I share (appropriate) stories that help to create connections with my students, and enhance the relevance of our learning. I tell them about the days we had no food in the house growing up, and the time I ate a bowl of breadcrumbs for dinner while sitting on the couch with my mom watching MASH. They hear of the day I went to the local record store and sold my old CD’s to get money for essentials. The times the police were at my house, how that made me feel and where I went to escape. They know how cognizant I am of the words that I use, partially because I am not only aware of their potential impact, but I remember it. I never say “have a great break” before a vacation, instead I remind them that not everyone looks forward to time away from school, and I ask them to reach out to those who may be struggling. Instead I tell them that I hope their time away is fulfilling, whatever that means for them. I don’t say “have a great break” because I HATED when teachers would say that to me. I knew my break was most likely not going to be great, it was an empty statement, and for me not realistic. Truthfully, I had to work to find any fulfillment sometimes, which is also part of my message to my students today.
I share that with you, to share this with you. We all have different reasons as to why we entered teaching. We all have different paths that we took to get here. We have all been influenced in a variety of ways by a number of people and a cluster of events that put us where we are. On a daily basis (especially now) we as teachers are inundated with “what” we have to do, but how often do we remind ourselves “why” we are doing it? Your why is the platform from which you stand each and every time you deliver a lesson, or have a conversation with a student. The times we feel like we are lost, our why can serve as our compass guiding us back on path. Simply put, my why is “to be a positive influence on the trajectory of a child’s life.” This is my why because I remember my struggles like they were yesterday, and I remember the impact my experiences in school had on me.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was a junior in high school because I was lucky enough to recognize the impact a teacher can have on a child, no matter how old that child may be. I remember how it felt when my art teacher laughed at my clay project in fourth grade, just as clearly as I recall my eleventh grade English teacher telling me she doesn’t need to look at the name on the top of the paper when she reads something I submitted, because she can “hear my voice come off the page.” I remember being wrongfully accused of wrongdoing in ninth grade by administration because a note was signed “Rizz the Wiz” (like I would ever refer to myself as “the Wiz”) and never getting an apology, and I remember my math teacher putting her Monday lesson aside, just to spend time with us, when three of our classmates died that weekend. As a kid searching for connection I remember it all, because I absorbed it all, and I had this burning desire to inspire students like my English teacher, and be there for them like my math teacher.
My path to where I am was long. I started off as an English education major because I loved to write. Then I switched to counseling thinking that may be the best place to pursue my why of positively influencing the trajectory of a child’s life, only to realize it is more scheduling and paperwork than it is personal connection. After I finished my undergrad it was time to reassess. I wanted to teach, but where and how can I optimize my why? Obviously the answer is as a health and physical education teacher. So, here I am, trying to live my why, whatever that means in any particular moment, with any specific student. My why brought me to where I am. It led me to becoming a health and physical education teacher, it was not born from my experiences as a teacher, and that helps to keep me focused. Your why is yours, and it can grow from anywhere at any time. It can go through iterations or possibly change course completely. The important part is to let it lead you, which can be challenging. Sometimes we need reminders to center us. Below are just a few ways that I try to keep my why in my line of sight.
Make a box, leave it on your desk, and everytime you are reminded of your why during the day in some way, write it down and put it in the box. Then, in those moments where you feel like you have lost your way, go through the box and read what was left for you, by you.
See yourself in your students. Odds are that your why has something to do with your students, and if you look hard enough, there is probably a part of you in every child you are lucky enough to teach. Foster those relationships, get to know your students, and never forget what it was like to be in their shoes. I tell my students all the time how lucky I am to not only remember what it was like to be a kid, but I remember what being a kid felt like.
Seek and keep what aligns with your why, and save those things. Rita Pierson has a great TedTalk that I am sure most of you have heard called “Every Kid Needs a Champion.” Not only is a great message, but it is one of those things that aligns with my why. With that in mind, I created a tradition for my drive into work on the first day of school. When I am about ten minutes away from the school, I put her talk on. I also cue it up on my way home after a tough day.
By Charlie Rizzuto
Oyster Bay High School
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Pair this post with the following:
Aligning to a Social Emotional Lens in Physical Education by Jordan Manley
3 thoughts on “My Why”
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