More Important Than Money: The Power of Understanding Why You Do What You Do

Young woman at blackboard: Remember Why You Started

When you remember your why, you fall in love all over again with teaching!

What do all super-successful people, whatever field they are in, have in common?

It’s not experience. You already know that longevity doesn’t necessarily breed success.

It’s not extraordinary skills. You realize that knowing what and how to do something doesn’t necessarily translate into practicing the skill.

It’s not even a powerful drive. The dog is driven to chase the car. What does he do if he catches it?

Although experience, skills, and drive can help you be an effective teacher, they’re not necessarily prerequisites for success.

The one thing that does make a difference, though, is your “why.”


Your why…

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Why does what you do matter?

Why do you spend hours in front of your computer every week planning your lessons?

Why do you do what you do, those intentional choices that bring you joy and the feeling of success?

Why do you stay up late and get up early, so that you can capture your feelings of success as you work on ways to guide your students to their success?

Why do you counsel your students or keep snacks in your desk drawer for your hungry students?

Why do you spend your own money to buy supplies for your classroom and get to school early to tutor your students or to sponsor the Chess Club?

The “why” is what ultimately drives you to success, but here’s the thing: It’s different for everyone. Your why is not my why, and my why is not her why. It’s a deeply personal choice that can have great meaning.

Jody, a teacher who is the first person in her family to be graduated from college, knows her why. She might happily spend 60 hours each week mentoring her students who are the first in their family to see the possibility of attending college.

Darlene, a mother of two elementary-age children, knows her why. She was saddened at the thought of sending her kids to daycare just so she could go to work to barely pay for it. Her big why for becoming a teacher is the drive to have the same school day and vacation time as her children, while supporting her family.

Scott, a young, fresh-out-of-school teacher, resisted taking the same path his parents took, working for a corporation for 40 years, only to retire with barely enough to live on. Instead, he dreams of making a difference in students’ lives and having the income and breaks in the school year to see the world while he’s still young enough to enjoy it.

So, what’s your big “why”? You already know, don’t you?

It might be the desire to make a difference in the world, to create a legacy. It might be the freedom to travel during summer vacation, the option to have the same schedule as your children so that you can spend quality time with your family, the ability to build an investment fund for your retirement, or to have funds to support a cause that’s dear to your heart.

One of the reasons teachers fall out of love with teaching is that their why and their school’s why are not in sync. You have known all along that the lofty, flowery-worded mission statement really means that the box has been checked and the words are now engraved on plaques in every school in the district; yet, what you witness each day is business as usual. Are the school district’s why and your why compatible, or is there a disconnect?

Every day when you walk into your classroom, do you recall the words of the mission statement, or do you think of your own why? That gnawing level of discontent with teaching can be that — at some deep, perhaps unconscious level — the school’s why and your why are not compatible.

Is your why to work with a highly-qualified team? The mission statement might tout teaching by a highly qualified team. In reality, are your ideas as a team member being valued, and are you, as a human being, valued both by yourself and others, or are you simply a pawn on the master schedule?

Is your why personal and professional growth? Are the words on the plaque, committed to growth, commensurate with opportunities for your personal and professional growth as a teacher? What about succession and long-term career planning for teachers?

Is your why to be innovative, creative? How compatible is that with the requirements to teach isolated facts for a state-mandated test?

Is your why success? Is success having students reach a 70 percent mastery in a subject, or does that word mean that students have the ability to think, to choose behavior that is appropriate, and to adapt to change?

Is your why community collaboration? Does that mean kowtowing to the loudest group, or following your own values?

Whatever it is, your “why” is the driving force behind every action you take. When you remember the “why,” you can reclaim the joy of teaching, knowing that setbacks are learning opportunities.

When you’re deciding whether to take on a new grade level or a new challenge or project, ask yourself if it’s aligned with your “why.”

When you’re setting goals for the year, ask yourself if those goals are moving you closer to or further from your big why.

Thinking of branching out into a venture or even whether to accept another job offer? Make sure it’s in alignment with your big why, and success, as you define it, is suddenly much more attainable.

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Lynette Relyea thumbnail photoLYNETTE RELYEA
~ The Teacher’s Mentor
~ Speaker
~ Author, Best Selling Book: Reclaim the Joy of Teaching: The 7-Step Guide for Teachers Who Have Lost that Loving Feeling and Want to Fall in Love All Over Again with Teaching