“Teaching is a lifelong career that begins the moment you step into a classroom on your first day, and does not end until you pass from this earth.”
Kyle Cater is an English teacher at Kenai Central High School. He attended the Spring 2014 Talk Story, Write Story workshop in Homer.
WHY I TEACH
Why I am a Teacher
Teaching is something that is universal; every country has some sort of education system that is in place to educate the minds of youth and adults. Teaching, in actuality, was my backup career choice; I was always an English major in college yes, but with an emphasis on Technical Writing, I had no intention on becoming a teacher and “dealing” with children all day. Then I met a student in the English department at Washington State University where I was attending, who was taking a technical writing class as an elective for her education major; we would talk about the reasons why she went into teaching and why she felt as though it was a career above all the rest. Every response she had to one of my questions was always something along the lines of: “it’s a career about someone else, not myself”. Hearing those words spoke to me in a way that I had never experienced and took me a while to understand. I kept asking myself: “why would I make my career about someone other than myself? It’s MY career, not theirs”. After pondering on these questions for countless days, I finally had the realization that I was where I was because someone made their career about me, not themselves. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to devote my life to other people, and who better than children?
After officially declaring my change of emphasis within the English department, I then started to ponder the benefits and detriments (which should have actually been done before declaring an abrupt switch). Pro: chance to develop lifelong relationships and leave a “legacy” with kids so they never forget WHO taught them a specific topic. Con: salary is not so high. Being the fiscally frugal person that I am, this had a very large impact on me, then I had a thought about money, and what it actually entailed. You could have all the money in the world, but what about your happiness? I realized that I would rather be paid less to be happy and have a rewarding career, than be the richest man on earth and despise what I did for a living.
After finishing my degree and being a licensed teacher in the state of Washington, I moved back to Seattle where I am from, taking sub jobs here and there, getting the little experience that I could, before finally receiving a long term substitute position teaching 12th grade AP English Literature. I was ecstatic about getting the position because that meant stable pay and stable experience day-to-day. After about 2 weeks, I started to get some rather aggressive contacts from parents who were upset about grades for their children or for being disciplined; college tried to teach me everything there was about being a teacher, but they did not attempt to teach me how to deal with parents. After numerous “attacks” I finally broke down, I could not handle it anymore, I started to pass kids on the sole worry that if I didn’t, I would be getting angry contacts form parents, and with having no backing of my administration against these parents, I was on my own. Then I thought about it and realized that I needed to be the one to hold lower students accountable for their actions, and learn to defend myself and philosophies when needed; I am still in that learning stage, growing stronger and more intelligent when it comes to parent/student interactions every day.
In my current post at Kenai Central High School, I have been met with respect by students and staff, as well as the backing of any decision I make by my administration. Coming from Seattle and graduating high school in a class of 1,000, it is new to me to be in a school where the total population is about 550; however, I am learning that I am valued much more at this small school in terms of what I do for kids, my extracurricular involvements, and lengths I go to in order to ensure the success of all my students as opposed to if I was back teaching at my old high school in Seattle having 4,000 students. At my school in Kenai I am the after school study hall coordinator as well as a member of the Intervention Team targeting the success of at-risk students within our school; since our community is small enough, everyone knows each other, which I will admit, did take me a while to get used to, but my ideals and methods of teaching are becoming so widely accepted amongst the community, people are turning to me to ask for my help in diffusing problems that might be arising at home, because their student responds so well to me. Being accepted by my school and my community is such a blessing in the sense that I know that I am valued and I know that I am wanted.
I have a student who is in 12th grade, does not respond well to any of his teachers, except for me. I think frequently about why that could possibly be, I do nothing different than his other teachers, and if anything, am more stern with him and his attitude than any of his other teachers. Then it hit me: I talk to him as if he is an actual adult, not as if he is a child; we talk about life, sports, his interests, my interests, things that are bothering him, the reason why he got a detention from another class and the possible methods he could take to ensure that it does not happen again, things that are of value to him and of value to me. Developing the relationship that him and I have started since I came to Kenai is something that is amazing to experience; by having me mentor him in the ways of proper behavior and respect towards adults, his discipline statistics have plummeted from “frequent” to “minor”. This accomplishment of personal identity and respect towards others, while not an academic one, is something I see as equally important as scholastic achievement.
Teaching is a lifelong career that begins the moment you step into a classroom on your first day, and does not end until you pass from this earth. You are constantly teaching, whether it is a student or yourself, and learning to build lifelong learning tactics not just in the minds of young people, but in your own mind, will keep you on the track to gratification of self and awareness of meaning on this earth.