For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to teach.
For my 7th birthday, my dad bought me a Classroom Set game, which consisted of all of the tools I needed to make my younger sister’s life a living nightmare: a school bell, grading stamps, a whiteboard, and detention slips. I always wanted to play school, and as many times as she begged to be the teacher, I never let her. I’d turn my dining room into my classroom, and spend hours teaching her how to read and write, sending her back to school with all of her homework already graded. My dream was a childhood game, until it took on a much more important meaning for my family and I.
During my third grade year, my younger sister was diagnosed with Epilepsy. She spent the next several years so heavily medicated that most days, she could not even leave her bed, let alone attend school. The doctors had prescribed her so many medications by the start of Kindergarten, her body was slowly shutting down. She lived her life in a bubble, essentially having no working memory, and an extremely low ability to process new information. Going through this at 5-7 years old forced her to miss all of her foundational reading, writing, and math skills.
When her Epilepsy became manageable, and she was able to stop taking so many medications, she returned to school. Entering second grade, she was severely behind her other classmates, and she needed as much support from her teachers as she could get. However, instead of receiving that support, she was met with anger and frustration from her teachers. When she got a 90 on a test, the teacher wrote “Try Harder Next Time!” At parent-teacher conferences, the teacher would tell my parents that she “wasn’t trying hard enough.”
I saw how much that comment hurt her, and I still see the effect on her confidence in school. So, I made her be the student at home, so that I could grade her assignments and decorate her papers with smiley face stamps and giant, red 100% stickers. I wanted to keep her fire for education alive, because I had found such hope in school.
While she was sick, I found so much hope in school, and in my teachers. They taught me that learning can be an escape, and that I can use it to free myself from the rest of the troubles in my life. When I struggled, I found passionate, caring teachers who wanted to help me. I had teachers who agreed to stay after school to re-teach a lesson to me, when I didn’t understand it the first time. As she suffered through her first year of school, I wanted my sister to feel that freedom in her own education, and to use it to free herself from whatever weight she carried.
When she finally did move on to 3rd grade, she found a teacher who cared for her, and helped her make up several of the learning gaps she had. She helped my sister get back on track, and re-instilled a passion for education in her. She continued to struggle through high school and college because she missed so many foundational skills, but she, like me, was always met with caring teachers who wanted her to be successful.
That desire to share the light and freedom of education with others carried me throughout high school and college, and it carries me through today. I teach because I want to share the freedom of education with my students. I want to show my students that education is powerful, and it unlocks doors to whatever future they desire for themselves. I want to teach my students to be passionate, curious minds who grow into compassionate, thoughtful adults. I teach because I want my students to understand that there is no limit to potential. I want all students to have teachers who care about their success, whether they are first in the class or last; I want them to know that there are many teachers who care that they succeed, like mine did. I teach to be a part of that team of other powerful, inspirational teachers.
Brooke Serra is an English teacher in a small, public high school in New York City. After graduating from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, she enrolled in a residency program, and will be transitioning to receive her Masters in Teaching from, Relay Graduate School of Education. She is passionate about the power of reading and writing, and hopes to inspire others to share their reasons for teaching. Brooke grew up in Rhode Island, and enjoys going home on long weekends to spend time with her family.
This piece is part of a series from Inservice entitled, ‘Why I Teach’, where we asked teachers from various backgrounds and years of experience to reflect on their why. Check back every day this week to read from other teachers as they write about why they’re a teacher.