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Why I Stay: 3 Reasons Why I Continue to Lead from the Classroom

A teacher points into a glassed in classroom filled with students working on computers, smiling and waving at her.

I’ve always known that my purpose in life was to teach. With eleven years on the job, I still get interesting feedback around my choice to stay in the classroom. “The job has no money or glory in it,” I was once told. Well, that’s not why I entered the field or why I choose every day to walk in the classroom.

1.) It’s not about the money!

My mother was a teacher and my father was a computer programmer. My father worked insanely long hours and though he was paid well, he wasn’t fulfilled with his career. My mother, on the contrary, was not paid as much. What she lacked in pay, she more than made up for with a feeling of deep purpose. She often spoke about how each decision she made impacted her students – that’s powerful! When she picked books for her students to read, they often affirmed their culture. When she had to manage behavior, she knew when to be graceful and when to show tough love. Her daily interactions with students could “make or break” them. That passion and purpose was passed down to me. I teach because I am a nurturer by nature. I know that in the eyes of a child, what I do and say matters. I am in the business of helping shape the next generation.

2.) It takes a village.

I had a mother and father, but it was my village that helped raise me. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers – they all played an integral role in who I am today. My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Markey, opened a limitless world of possibilities by inspiring me to love books. My 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. McClean taught me the power of writing. It was my teachers who fostered the notion that I could do anything I put my mind to. My teachers set my aspirations to be all that they were for me – enthusiastic cheerleaders, strong discipliners, and a safe place – for my students.

3.) Children need a voice.

Finally, I choose the classroom each day because I want to give students a voice. The traumatic living conditions that some students experience – being left home alone, not knowing when their next meal will come, lacking basic utilities such as electricity and gas, living in unsafe neighborhoods, etc., deeply saddens me. No child should ever have to deal with the types of conditions my students see on a daily basis. Thus, I take on the role of being their advocate. As a teacher, my voice brings authority to change policies so that the rule makers take my students, families and the complexity of their situations into account. I work tirelessly to educate all in the school community – educators and parents alike.

Being a teacher is not about money or glory, it’s not about loving kids – my love of teaching is about the sense of purpose I feel when I am standing in front of these young minds, these eager-to-do-great boys and girls. I stay and I lead from my classroom because I know that is a positive place to be for my students and it will ultimately keep them on the road to success.


Cynthia O’Brien is a 5thGrade Math/Science teacher from Maywood, Illinois and 2018-2019 School Ambassador Fellow with the US Department of Education.  

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