“I can see myself within my students. The struggles that they are facing are some of the same struggles that I faced when I was in school.”
Falon Tardiff is a teacher at Chevak School. She attended the Spring 2014 Talk Story, Write Story workshop in Homer.
WHY I TEACH
Why I am a Teacher
When I think about why I became a teacher, I draw a blank. I don’t ever remember having the ‘a-ha’ moment that many people have, or ever dreaming about the day that I would become a teacher. All I remember was my mom becoming a teacher when I was in high school and thinking that it sounded like a pretty nifty, possibly easy thing for me to accomplish. So, I decided to go to college for an elementary (k-8) education degree. On top of that my concentration was in ELL (English Language Learners), which certified me to teach k-12. Needless to say my perception has significantly changed since I went from teaching 1st grade to teaching middle and high school aged kids. I don’t think that I was really inspired to go into teaching and honestly I don’t think that teaching is my life’s calling. I can say without a doubt that working with kiddos is definitely in my life’s calling, and that is what probably led me to teaching. It seemed like a very obtainable career option for me at the time and I knew that I was going to have support from my mom if I pursued this avenue.
If I were to look back on a teacher role model that inspired me to be the teacher that I am today, it would be my high school elective teacher, Mr. Berberich. I remember being in his class right after we moved to Alaska; when my parents had just finalized their divorce. He was the only teacher that I was ever comfortable with talking to about the emotions that I was feeling since the divorce. He was the only person that ever went out of his way to see how I was doing. I often think about his kindness when I’m working with my own kids.
My point of view has drastically altered since I became an educator. I went into thinking how easy it would be to teach 1st graders how to read and add, and now I’m teaching 7th-12th graders how to read and pass tests. But my job as a teacher has become so much more than teaching them reading strategies. It has become more about teaching them how to deal with the harshness of life when it gets difficult. I have had to learn as a teacher how to really get to students even when they all deal with the outside of school.
I could sit here right now and rattle name after name of the students that have been my inspiration for continuing my career as a teacher. I teach because I can see myself within my students. The struggles that they are facing are some of the same struggles that I faced when I was in school. I am teaching for Cole, my senior that has overcome all the adversity the world could have thrown at him, and yet he still presses on. I am teaching for Jake, my sophomore who faces abuse at home but wants help to make sure that he does everything he needs to do while in high school so he can leave Chevak for college when he graduates. I teach for Davis, whose dad died over Christmas break and he feels like I’m the only other person that understands what he’s going through because I too lost my dad while I was in school. I teach for Hannah, the senior that every other teacher has given up on and lost hope in, but pushed herself and passed the HSGQE reading test and telling me that it was because I pushed her and never gave up. And I teach for Andy, my 8th grader that feels like he is unloved by everyone and has F’s in most of his classes, but comes to my room and pulls off an A.
There are many pros and cons to being a middle and high school teacher. For me it’s obviously a very stressful and overwhelming job, but I try not to focus on the negative aspects of being a teacher. For me I have never gained so much satisfaction then I do when I realize that I have truly made a difference in the lives of my students. Those moments always seem to happen for me, when I am sitting in doubt wondering why I choose to be a teacher in the first place. Even if I don’t get appreciation from all my students, it’s the ones that are truly genuine that make all the difference in the world for me. If I am able to reach just one kid and really make a difference to that one kid, all the stresses and worries that I have will have been worth it!
I think that my presence has made a difference to the people in my community. Many of the people from the community that I talk to that have children in the school, recognize that I truly want what is best for their child and that I’m going to push their child to do their best. It has also been important for me to build relationships with all the people that I come in contact with; I believe that this is a big key for success especially in my village. Students and members of the community rely on me being there to help them with any issues that arise.
The frustration that I am constantly faced with is the general attitude of school. Whether my kiddos think they can’t do it, or it’s too hard, or there’s no point, or it isn’t going to help them, and most importantly the students that don’t believe in themselves and have lost hope in succeeding. There are a handful of students that have lost hope in themselves and don’t think they’re worth anyone’s time of effort. I find myself bothered over students like this, and it’s some of the kids that have the most potential but for whatever reason can’t see it in themselves. However the gratifications that I receive from being a teacher is the reason why I still persevere through the frustrations, because it is my deepest hope that those students that don’t see their potential will someday see all their worth. For some I know that moment is coming and that will be the most gratifying experience for me as a teacher.