This article appeared in the Winter 2018-19 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

By Cherie Bales

Imagine a young Marine in basic training who has just been dumped on a mountain in the freezing rain. He has no tent for shelter and his mission is simply to survive. He can quit at any time. All he has to do is say the word. But every time he thinks about giving up, he can hear his freshman football coach telling him, “I’m not going to let you quit!”

Now imagine you’re teaching and a young man in full Marine dress blues shows up at your classroom door. He’s that former small freshman who wanted to quit so many times. Then he tells you, “Coach! I want you to know that I completed basic training even though I wanted to quit. I finished because I could hear your voice telling me, ‘You can’t quit! I won’t let you quit!’” Coach Bruce Barrera of Kermit ISD continues the story, “He was probably the smallest freshman we had, and he rarely got any playing time. I think he went out for football just to be a part of something. I knew if I let him quit, he would end up quitting for the rest of his life.”

It is in those moments when a student or former student tells you about the difference you made in his/her life that you remember why you became a teacher. In a time when many educators consider giving up, it’s extremely important to reflect and remind ourselves why we are here.

The Learning Policy Institute released a report in August 2017 that stated, “90 percent of vacant teaching positions are created by teachers leaving the profession. Two thirds are leaving for reasons other than retirement. Some of those reasons are lack of compensation, entering the field as an alternatively certified teacher and not feeling prepared, lack of administrative support, and working conditions such as colleague relationships, school culture, lack of parental support or involvement, lack of teaching resources, no time for collaboration and planning, and the pressures of high stakes testing.”

And then there is the task of recruiting new teachers. Market Watch reported that “back in 1975, more than one fifth (22 percent) of college students majored in education, a higher share than any other major.” The report went on to say that today only 4.6 percent of college freshman plan to major in education.

So what keeps teachers in the profession? What inspires you to stay?

Treon Minall teaches special education in Denver City ISD. “The reason I stay in education is because every single day, I have the opportunity to show students that they are valued and they can accomplish great things,” she says. “I can’t think of another career where I can do something that matters so much.”

Like Treon, most of us didn’t become educators because of the pay, although we know we are seriously underpaid for what we do. Being a teacher is more than lesson planning, teaching rigorous lessons and having parent conferences. Teachers are counselors, mediators, nurses, coaches, detectives, comedians, parents, event planners, drill sergeants, entertainers, cheerleaders, janitors, referees, negotiators, decorators and motivators.

Laura Dees teaches speech/ACT-SAT prep and English 3 AP in Denver City ISD. She reiterates the above. “For me, teaching is building relationships with my students. It’s all about making a positive difference in their lives. A student might need a hug, lunch money, a listening ear, a prom dress or money to take the ACT.”

Diana Rivas Chavez also teaches in Denver City ISD as a bilingual specialist and EL coordinator at Kelly Elementary. As far as teacher pay, she says, “We all know that teachers do not make enough money. What we make is the FUTURE! To do good in the world, to help others in the world, and to help students become responsible, highly educated individuals. I chose this career because I love children. It is a path the Lord put me on so many years ago.”

All teachers hope to make a difference. “I strive to be a mentor to female athletes and create opportunities for their personal growth and confidence. Always with the mindset and determination to mold strong, young women mentally and physically; to be what my coaches were to me,” says Coach Deena Sanchez of Edinburg ISD.

As to why I am an educator, I share the sentiments of Coach Sanchez. I was a child from a broken home. My teachers in Denver City made me feel special, and school was my safe place. I still remember the names of every teacher I’ve ever had and the special things they did for me. Adelaide Foster came to see me in the hospital when I was in the first grade. Dolores Moore-Earls gave out the cutest dog erasers when we did something great in the third grade, which I lived for.

Vicki O’Neil gave me bags of second-hand clothes and made me believe I was doing her a huge favor by taking them off her hands. My sixth-grade teacher, Sheryl Wright, forever made an impact on my life by introducing me to my favorite children’s book, “Where the Red Fern Grows.” It wasn’t just that she read it to us, it was how she read it and allowed herself to become emotional at the end. It made her human.

I had too many junior high and high school teachers to name them all, but Diana Clifton complimented me on my handwriting on a daily basis, making me feel 10 feet tall. She found something special in me that I never would have thought was special. David Rollins and David Riker were my band directors from sixth grade until graduation, and they taught me work ethic as they directed our band to state every year I was in high school.

One of my favorite teachers was Bud Powell, a former Marine who taught math. I hated math, but I loved his class. When I asked him why he went into education, he replied, “I stayed in teaching because I knew I could make a difference in the lives of my students. Not everyone wants to be a positive influence to the younger generation, but I always felt like that’s what God put me here for and I tried to make it work.”

And finally, Coach Steve and Renee Taylor invited me into their home and allowed me to watch their precious children Scarlett and Jarryd and gave me a sense of family and belonging I had never known before. They made a huge impact on my life, and I wanted to do the same someday for other children.

When I had a student show up and give me a special graduation announcement that she gave to only a handful of her teachers thanking me for getting her to graduation day, I knew I had made a difference in at least one student’s life. That’s what we all hope for.

So as you push through spring and finish the school year, I hope you remember why you became a teacher. While there are so many things wrong with education, I encourage you to focus on all that is right. And I encourage you to either start or continue to fight for our beloved profession and students. If we don’t stand up and use our voice, no one else will.

On those incredibly stressful days, remember YOU are making a difference. YOU are changing lives.

My sincerest blessings to you for the rest of the year and beyond!