Author Bio: Katrina Fried is the author of American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom. This was originally posted at
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In a recent article about happiness at work, Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that the happiest among us are those who are solving the toughest problems and “making a difference” in people’s lives. If contributing to the betterment of the world is indeed among the keys to happiness, then it’s no wonder that the extraordinary teachers featured in “American Teacher: Heroes of the Classroom” [Welcome Books/Random House] express a deep sense of fulfillment and pleasure in the work that they do day in and day out. Against all odds, each of the fifty educators profiled is making a lasting positive impact on his or her students; the kind of impact that recasts futures, changes lives, and might just inspire the rest of us to consider a second career in education. As Ron Poplau, a 52-year public-school veteran who teaches high school community service in Shawnee, Kansas, explains to his students, “the doer of good becomes good.” Still need a nudge? Here are 21 excellent reasons to quit your job and become a teacher:
1. To encourage children to DREAM BIG “On many occasions I play both educator and caretaker, which I admit can make one feel stretched thin at times, but I can’t imagine shutting the door to my classroom and leaving all the troubles of my kiddos behind. How are my young scholars able to learn if they aren’t first met on an emotional level? My thoughts on the rewards of teaching are simple: the joy of watching a child dream and imagine and think significantly outweighs the exhaustion. I would not have it any other way.” – Emily E. Smith teaches English Language Arts at Cunningham Elementary School in Austin, TX
2. To positively IMPACT THE FUTURE of our world “From the time I started teaching, I was less interested in being a certain type of teacher and more interested in showing the students that they had worth and value. I believe that the true purpose of a teacher is to prepare kids to be good citizens of the world–to be satisfied, well-rounded human beings, which is not entirely about knowledge. A great measure of success is your ability to think critically and be intentional with your life.” – Josh Anderson teaches Debate, Forensics, and English at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, KS
3. To live with a deep SENSE OF PURPOSE “Teachers have many precious opportunities to build a student’s self-concept, help shape a dream, provide redirection, and impart knowledge and wisdom… Having these opportunities and acting on them is what I value most about being a teacher. I don’t think of it as a job. It’s a purpose for living.” – Alma Suney Park teaches 6th grade at Eastside College Preparatory School, East Palo Alto, CA
4. To GET A LETTER like this

When Los Angeles teacher Rafe Esquith sent a check to help out a former at-risk student who was attending NYU, here’s an excerpt of the response he received: “I appreciate your willingness to help me. It reminds me (as if I could ever forget) that you are one of the greatest people I have ever had the honor to meet. But I’d much rather the money you are offering me go to the class, so that one day maybe some other kid will be in a position like mine. And while I’m on that subject I just have to tell you, I tell our story to anyone who will listen. Rafe, I honestly believe I would be dead right now if it wasn’t for you. I was headed down a dark path, where drug dealing didn’t seem so bad and the acceptance of a gang was looking like the only way to be accepted. You saved me from that.”
5. To discover your TRUE CALLING

“Eleven years ago, I began teaching high-school mathematics in Harlem and I’ve never looked back. Every day, my life has purpose. Every day, I make a difference. I teach content, even advanced placement statistics and advanced placement microeconomics at the college level, but I teach so much more. Simply by engaging in spontaneous reasoned dialogue with students, I offer them new ways of perceiving the world around them. I teach life skills; I teach morals; I teach wise choices; I teach compassion. I spend time with youngsters who need an adult who treats them with respect and kindness.” – Jane Klir Viau, left her lucrative Wall Street career to become an AP Statistics and Microeconomics teacher at the Frederick Douglass Academy 1 in New York City, NY
6. To be the ONE CARING ADULT in a child’s life

“I teach in a neighborhood labeled by the national media as ‘the killing zone.’ Some days it feels more like a third-world country–there’s so much violence, ignorance, drugs, poverty, etc. There are classes where my students don’t ever pick up their instruments–we just talk about something that’s upsetting or worrying them. In this neighborhood, things happen all the time that deeply affect these kids. Many of them don’t have an adult to go to. I leave my door open so that the children understand I am a listener for them, and if I’m not the right person to help, I’m going to find the right person.” – Helena Moss-Jack teaches Instrumental Music at Elmhurst Community Prep and Alliance Academy Middle School in Oakland, CA
7. To experience personal GROWTH

“Teaching reflects you. If you can look at that reflection, you will really learn about yourself. That humbles me and brings me to tears when I talk about it. Because in the beginning, I was scared of what I saw. Kids find the cracks in your armor. It is not that they set out to, they just do. But if you are willing to step back and reflect, you can grow so much. It is a wonderful, unexpected caveat. You think you are going to teach, but boy, do you learn.” – Jay Hoffman teaches Multimedia, Broadcasting, and Social Media at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, VT
8. To GIVE AND RECEIVE unconditional love

“I was brought up with unconditional love and that inspires me to this day to not be afraid to love with all I have. Anything I can share with my students to help them be more successful–anything–I don’t care what it is, I will do it. Whether it’s morals or math or motion–I just want to give them every tool I possess. I want my students to see the beauty and the value in themselves, and find the strength and confidence to journey down the path they were created to walk and give it all they have.” – Sharon Patelsky teaches Physical Education at Everglades Elementary School in West Palm Beach, FL
9. To be a STUDENT for life

“My job is simply to be the lead learner, to be real for my students, to be authentic–to make mistakes, to be passionate, to geek out, and to get very serious when I need to be. I often use the metaphor of my desk being in the far back corner of the classroom to illustrate this learner-centered philosophy. As much as anything, it’s an outward sign of what is valued in our class: we are all students.” – Sarah Brown Wessling teaches English Language Arts at Johnston High School in Johnston, IA, and was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year

“Throughout my childhood, I thrived at school. I was third in my class and was selected to the Hall of Fame by my teachers. Despite that, I really did not believe I had any important talents to offer this world. That is, until one day in 1974, in my public speaking classroom. It was my first speech and I stood in front of the class filled with anxiety, but when I started talking, it felt pretty good. Afterwards, my teacher, Ms. Derbonne, left me a note saying that I had just unwrapped a very special gift. Here was the defining moment in my young life: I was innately designed to speak. She invited me to be on her elite competitive speech team. The countless hours of guidance she provided resulted in my placing as a finalist at the state championship in dramatic interpretation. I knew then that I wanted to become a speech teacher, just like her. I had to keep the ripple effect going.” – Donna Porter teaches Oral Communications at Picayune Memorial High School in Picayune, MS
11. To LOVE YOUR JOB this much

“I’ve been known not to be aware of when a vacation is coming, and I forget to let the kids know. When I put the homework on the board and it says, ‘No school Monday,’ I put a sad face next to the words with tears coming out of its eyes.” – Dave Crumbine teaches English at KIPP Academy Middle School in Houston, TX
12. To INSPIRE generations of CHANGE

“The beautiful thing is, if these kids who grew up at a 70 percent free-and-reduced-cost-lunch school go to college, become successful, and return to their community, they can begin to make a significant change. Because soon their children and grandchildren will become college graduates as well. And then a community of high-school graduates becomes a community of generations of college graduates. It might take thirty or forty years, but you can change the success of an entire community just by focusing on education. It’s like that old saying, ‘There’s nothing to it but to do it.'” – Alvin Davis teaches Music and Band at Miramar High School in Miramar, FL
13. To ignite the SPARK of LEARNING

“Getting recognition or awards for how I teach–it’s kind of like giving a medal to a fish for swimming. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel called to do it–almost like a minister. Name it what you want. But so many good things have happened, and so many people have come together. It’s almost like it was waiting there all along. It just needed the right spark. Fires are awesome, but you still need something to get them going. I think sometimes the right teacher in the right place at the right time can do that.” – Keil Hileman teaches Museum Connections and Honors Archaeology & Artifacts at Monticello Trails Middle School in Shawnee, KS

“I had an excellent education growing up and was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to if I just put my mind to it. And that’s the same thing I want for my students.” – Julia King teaches Math and Reading at DC Prep Edgewood Middle Campus in Washington, DC
“[There] I was, a first-year teacher, with 250 students and a hundred-dollar budget. My solution was bucket drumming. I had the idea to go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of five-gallon paint buckets to use as drums. The kids loved it. I mean, picture twenty kids bucket drumming, straight across a giant stage. It’s just amazing. This is my fourth year now, and it’s really taken off. The program has created almost a mini-culture of young drummers roaming around Philadelphia’s public schools.” – Jason Chuong is an itinerant music teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, PA
16. To experience the JOY of working with kids every day
“I feel like I haven’t gone to ‘work’ a day in twelve years. I truly enjoy what I do. And that’s what I want for my kids. Even though I teach science, I’m not necessarily concerned with making a great nation of scientists, per se. If my students want to go on to quantum mechanics, that’s great. But I’m equally as proud of my students who go into nursing or acting, or become welders or beauticians. I just want them to love what they do and have the confidence to do what they love. That’s the goal of education.” – Jeffrey Charbonneau teaches Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, and Architecture at Zillah High School in Zillah, WA, and is the 2013 National Teacher of the Year

“I knew what it was like to struggle in class so, as an adult, I felt that I could make a meaningful impact with my students no matter where they came from or their level of daily challenges. They simply needed good education, not the usual heavy-handed dose of memorizing and testing.” – Dr. David B. Lazerson teaches Special Education Music & Drama Therapy at The Quest Center in Hollywood, FL
18. To explore your CREATIVITY
“Even though I am known as the Rappin’ Mathematician, I’ve tried to be very clear with teachers that what I do is really not about rapping. It’s about finding and creating ways to engage students in the lessons. I tell teachers, if you love hiking, take your students for a hike, just make sure you get some math or science in there. If you love knitting, teach the kids how to knit and get some engineering concepts in there. Find something you love and incorporate it into your teaching; let that become your ‘style.'” – Alex Kajitani uses rap to teach Math at Conway Elementary School in Escondido, CA
“My experiences as a student and as a teacher have brought new opportunities for me to grow, reach, and stretch. I teach in the hopes of making the world a better place. There are still worlds to change, lives to touch, and powerful work to be done. There will always be those out there who can provide all the reasons why we shouldn’t, won’t, or can’t. That’s why we cherish those rare individuals who remind us why we should, why we will, why we can! That’s our job as educators and I am proud to serve among those who reach out and make a difference every day.” – Jason Fulmer was 2004’s South Carolina Teacher of the Year and a National Teacher of the Year finalist
20. To MOTIVATE other TEACHERS by your example

“I want to shout from the rooftops to all of these teachers: Take risks. Try new things. Encourage creativity. Learn from your students. Throw open your doors, roll up your windows. Push hard. Expect a lot. But always allow for the unexpected. Don’t be afraid to give your students control of the classroom, because you will often be surprised at the direction their hearts, thoughts, and dreams will take them… and you.” – Angie Miller teaches English Language Arts at Holderness Central School in Holderness, NH
21. To be THE OBJECT OF THE CUTEST COMPARISON you’ve ever heard

Just as first-grade teacher Kerry Salazar was when she received a handwritten card from one of her students that read, “My sister said she thinks you’re better than cinnamon bread! And so do I!”