The Big Why

You know the one.

It’s the one they ask you to write about in the personal statement to get on the training course. The one with the answers such as:

‘…I’ve always had a passion for learning and I want to turn that passion into my career…’


‘…When I was 14 my life was turned around by a teacher, I want to do the same for other children and help them reach their potential…’


‘…for me, teaching is more of a calling than a profession. The career I wish to embark on is too important to treat with anything less than the utmost dedication…’

(By the way, if you’re ever struggling to fill in one of those accursed forms feel free to liberally nick any and all of the above. I’ve got hundreds of the suckers. Personal statement ideas I mean. Not the forms themselves. Because why would I have a bunch of blank application forms lying around? That makes no sense. What’s the matter with you?)

Anyway, the question is, of course,  ‘Why do you want to be a teacher?’

Is it really an important one? Well, if you want to get on the course then yes, it’s expected that you set out your selfless and noble reasons as to why you have chosen this sacred profession.

But what about in general? Is one teacher better than another because of their intentions at the start? This I’m not so sure of.

If it were true then the next bit would make no sense whatsoever as I would be painting myself to be, like, the worst teacher ever. I’m not by the way. That prize goes to a drama teacher. Yeah, you know who you are. B for my monologue?  Seriously? B? How very dare you. You are not forgiven.

If I had written a personal statement with unbroken and frank honesty it wouldn’t have got me onto the course and it very likely would have got me a visit from some burly men dressed in white uniforms carrying a jacket that did up at the back. And it might have gone a little something like this:

Dear Whatever Educational Establishment is Willing to Have Me,

I am desperate.

I am currently writing this to you outside the disabled toilet of the college where I work as a TA. In a couple of minutes I’ll go back in there and give personal care to a student under the soothing blue-neon light designed to make it difficult for intravenous drug-users to find a vein. Problem is, it also makes it difficult to see…other things. It’s a horrible environment to do a difficult job which sometimes results in me being covered in crap. Naturally, with this experience my thoughts turn to teaching.

I don’t know if I want to be a teacher, let alone if I’ll be any good at it. I’ve never done it in a professional capacity before therefore I’ve no idea. However, I enjoy working with kids and young adults and they’ve not lynched me yet so that’s something. I’ve got a degree. I also like books.

The money is better than I’m making now and I’ll get paid through the holidays. Yes, I know a lot of dedicated teachers work hard and the cash and the time off isn’t even close to being fair recompense for their efforts but I’m not planning on being one of those so that’s alright.

Also, I’ve met a girl and I think I’m in love with her and she says there is absolutely no way I’m joining the Army as I had originally planned. Yet I still want a sense of danger and excitement and the very real possibility of combat, so this is my best option.

Anyway, whatever.


I didn’t write that letter. I’m not a complete moron. I wrote one that resembled those extracts at the top and I got myself on a PGCE course. It was only after I started that my ideas as to why I was doing the job and what it meant to me solidified, became coherent and meaningful. Lucky for me, I realized I loved it, I was good at it and it gave me a sense of accomplishment like nothing I had ever felt before.

Most days.

Are the reasons why you want to teach important? I’ve met teachers with a vision, passion and zeal for wanting to do the best that they can for themselves and their students; teachers who live those quotes at the top of the page who couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag.

I’ve also seen unsure, cynical and jaded old windbags, who are there primarily for the money, consistently enrapture and enthrall students with little care as to why they are doing it.

Go figure.

At the end of the day the reasons why you want to teach aren’t important; they’re just words. What you do in the classroom – now that’s a different thing entirely. That’s real.

So, if sometimes you worry that you might be doing this for the wrong reasons, try not to. At least you are doing it and there’s no guarantee that the saint down the end of the corridor there is doing it any better.

And if you are that saint and you’re firm in your belief, go you. Just make sure your teaching is living up to your ideals.

Anyway, whatever.



  1. Jon David Groff

    I had school-based PD today and our principal asked us this question (leading to a discussion on writing a vision for the school). I heard similar responses to the initial ones you listed, but my reasons are very similar to the “real” reasons your “letter” explore. I actually tried the military, though, hated it, and realized I had no other options. Teaching was the best option for me to be able to stay connected to reading and writing and creativity, and sports, and work with kids. I have an ELA major and PE minor. I love love what I do and now have better reasons to do it well, but it didn’t start out that way. Perhaps needless to say, I kept my mouth tightly shut at this point of the conversation.

    • tstarkey1212

      Hey Jon!
      There’s certainly a disconnect between the (honest) reasons why people start this job and the message we often hear as to why we *should* be doing the job. For me, it took a while to find my feet and it seemed those around me had a zeal that I didn’t share which was extremely worrying at the start. Like you it took some time and I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing.
      Thanks for the comments Jon – much appreciated.

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