Why I Stay: This Battle is Worth It!

A few years ago, I heard a Dana Goldstein interview on NPR about her book, called The Teacher Wars: A History of the Most Embattled Profession. The title alone was so intriguing! I was captivated by a mind-blowing discussion of the historical, social, and political issues that shaped education in our country. Strangely, I found it comforting to learn that teachers have been fighting for this profession for years. At a time when teaching continues to be a battleground, here is why I teach and stay…

First and foremost, I teach because of the kids. My preschool students are wonderful young people who deserve a Free Appropriate Public Education (as mandated by law). I want that education to be the very best education possible! I believe students with autism have extraordinary abilities to see the world differently than neurotypical people—and my goal is to nurture their strengths so they can solve world problems that elude the rest of us. I am proud to be a National Board Certified teacher because my students deserve a reflective practitioner who considers their individual needs and designs innovative, engaging instruction. I stay because I value each of my students as people who just might change the world someday.

I teach because preschool families need resources and encouragement. Over my past five years in preschool special education, I have been blessed to know some truly amazing families—families with deep love for their kids and commitment to their success. When I meet families with this level of motivation, I get so energized. I love partnering with families to share resources through conversations or my classroom loaning library. I love coordinating an autism walk team each year to connect parents with community resources and introduce them to families with similar experiences. I love watching the kids grow together, brainstorming strategies, and celebrating progress. I love nurturing the family-school partnership at such an important time in the child’s life. And I know it matters because the families often keep in touch long after their children have graduated my program. I stay because I want families to have positive early experiences with me so they expect positive partnerships for the rest of their child’s academic career. I stay because collaboration with families makes a difference.

I teach because it stimulates my heart and mind. In an ever-changing educational climate, something new is always around the corner. I appreciate the opportunities to innovate, reinvent, and consider new possibilities. I appreciate the amazing colleagues in my district who are good people all the way down to their core. Outside of teaching, where else can you find people who are willing to volunteer tons of time working outside their contracted hours to make a difference for kids? I stay because I love the people I work with everyday. And I love the amazing things they do for kids.

I teach because someone has to! Across this state and country, we face major teacher shortages. If you take a look at educational policies and some of the things people are saying about teachers today, it’s no surprise that people are laying down the torch. In this embattled profession, teachers are starved for a positive word of encouragement. As a special education induction coach for new teachers, I am very committed to training and retaining teachers, encouraging them as leaders, and connecting them with resources to be lifelong teachers. I stay because I believe we can make a difference—and I believe that changes are needed.

I teach because advancing the profession is important at a time when this profession is under attack. Educational policies shift and turn without much guidance from real teachers in real classrooms with real students. It’s time for teachers to share their stories. I deeply believe that stories from teachers are the only thing that’s going to create appropriate change in education today. I stay because I think that leading from IN the classroom makes a big difference.

I teach because I absolutely love my job! I returned to the classroom from my maternity leave last week. It was hard for me to leave my 11-week old daughter in daycare (though I love and trust her teachers). During circle time my first day back, I looked into the glowing faces of my students and my heart swelled with love. I thought to myself, “This is where I want to be.” Maybe it’s selfish, but I teach because I absolutely love it! I stay because teaching is a meaningful way to invest in the future—our kids. I stay because this battle is worth it.


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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