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The Educator Motivator: I Owe, You Owe, We Owe

A student once asked me, Mr. Martin, why do you care so much about us?

I guess I need to put the question into context. My class (as a whole) had just done horribly on one of my tests. After apologizing for letting them down as their teacher and for obviously not preparing them properly, I used the entire class period to solicit suggestions on improving my teaching methods.

It was obvious to my students that I was really disappointed in myself as a result of their performance. In other words, they could see I was taking it personally.

About the Author

Professor Joe Martin is an award-winning educator, trainer, and author of several books, including Good Teachers Never Quit, When Students Just Won't Listen, and Tricks of the Grade. Regarded as America's Top "Educator Motivator," he speaks, trains, and consults with more than 50 school districts a year in the area of teacher retention and student motivation/behavior issues. Joe supports teachers through his family of Web sites at NewTeacherUniversity, RealWorld University, and Teacher Pay Raise. Click here to read his complete bio.

After vowing to do better and to dedicate myself even more to helping them improve their efforts, one of my students asked the question, Why do you care so much about us? The question was implying that I was taking their failure too personally. But I couldn't see how I could take it any other way; I consider their success my success, and I consider their failure, well, you know.

Well, I couldn't think of a better way to start this school year than by asking you a similar question: Why do you care so much about teaching? I don't know about you, but I think it's one of the most important questions you can ask yourself every year (if not every week) of your teaching career. It's the driving force and foundation for your motivation as a teacher.

My response to the inquisitive student was probably somewhat boring, but at the same time, very sincere. I said, Because I owe it to my favorite teacher (Mrs. Saunders) to give YOU the best that I have EVERY day. I believe anything less than my very best in the classroom would dishonor her.

I don't know if my student fully understood the depth of my response, but as a fellow teacher, I know you do. Almost all of us (as teachers) owe a debt of gratitude to at least one teacher who made a difference in our lives.

Mrs. Saunders, a white woman from Mississippi, went out of her way to help the only African-American boy in her class believe he could make a difference even when everyone in the class thought he WAS different.

So, my question to you this month is, How much do YOU owe your favorite teacher? Well, if your favorite teacher was anything like mine, I'm sure he or she would say, Just pay your students what you think you owe me.

The truth is, we all owe something (to someone). So let's start paying it forward, instead of making our students pay for our mistakes. Remember, we owe it to our favorite teacher, and we owe it to our students. So teach with passion, and practice what you teach.


Article by Joe Martin
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