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Your Schools: Reasons why you might want to become a teacher

Some 3,000 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, over 30 in early childhood special preschool, and 150 preschool children in River Falls For Children (RF4C), will start school this week in River Falls.

About 175 more students will start at St. Bridget's Catholic School, and over 30 at Heartland Montessori will also begin.

Add to that, 6,600 students who will be attending UW-River Falls this fall, and over 550 who will be taking classes at Chippewa Valley Technical College. Obviously, education is alive and well in the River Falls community.

Recently, I was asked, "Why would anyone want to be a teacher anymore?"

This citizen worried about new teachers not wanting to pursue the profession due to low wages, diminished morale, and political winds that blow anti-public-service sentiment.

Last week, our teachers in the River Falls School District spent a grueling week in back-to-school workshops preparing for the arrival of students. Most years we hire a keynote speaker to kick off the workshops and motivate staff for the coming year.

Sometimes that works and the speaker brings humor, new curricular trends, and teaching suggestions.

Sometimes it doesn't work out and we end up wishing we'd taken time instead to listen to our own employees, even though they don't "come with a briefcase and travel more than 50 miles to get here!"

This year we chose the latter method and invited four of our employees to speak to roughly 400 of their colleagues on opening day of the workshop.

The four were asked to answer the questions, "Why do I do what I do?" and "What REALLY matters in the work I do?"

Here's some of the message from RFHS Assistant Principal Kit Luedtke:

"Without the support of others, opportunities, and most importantly, relationships that I had in my own high school, I wouldn't be standing here today.

"So when I stand in the commons and greet students entering our building each day, I continually wonder what other things they carry with them when they enter our school. For some it's a broken home, others a lack of self-confidence, or maybe this is the only place where they feel loved.

"I do what I do because I want every kid to know that regardless of what is happening outside of these building doors, they have a place that is safe, where someone cares, and where they are encouraged to be their best....It's all about relationships for me, and I think that relationships pulled most of us into this profession in the first place."

Stephanie Reid, 8th grade language arts teacher at Meyer Middle, told her peers,

"When I look back at my childhood and teenage years, aside from family, the people who most impacted my life and made a lasting impression, were my teachers. Just as my teachers had an impact on me, everyday I'm in the classroom, I have the opportunity to play a positive role in the lives of the hundreds -- nearing thousands now -- of students that have passed through my classroom.

"This is an honor and a privilege that I take really seriously. As Jackie Robinson stated, 'A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.'

"I teach because teaching and teachers matter. Our work matters... I teach because of and for the students in my classroom. My eighth graders make me laugh and smile every day, and, even though I'm the teacher, sometimes I feel I learn as much from them as they do from me...

"I teach because, while I definitely give to the classroom and to my students, I get so much back in return. I feel energized. For me, the rewards far outweigh the challenges."

Jean Wespetal is an experienced special education teacher at Westside Elementary, and she answered the question of why she does what she does by saying,

"First, I believe God directed my path to teach, and to teach here in River Falls. Second, why I do what I do is something I'm sure is common to us all -- students! All students, regardless of their backgrounds, economic situation, or social status deserve a chance to grasp at the opportunities in life. Public education is a major way for society to provide that equal footing.

"I believe educating the next generation is a worthy occupation and one in which I want to invest my time.

"I do what I do because of my colleagues in the district...your kindness makes me want to be here. You have invested in my own children and I can invest in other children. I do what I do because I want to emulate so many of you in this district."

Finally, Dana Zimmerman, adaptive physical education teacher district-wide, shared his own journey of overcoming his disability and told his colleagues at the workshop,

"I do what I do because as a person with a disability, carrying the torch for others with disabilities is my duty. Parents of our students with disabilities turn to me for support, example, and strength.

"I do what I do because I can use my own inner spirit to ignite the fire in students. My spirit has ability far beyond any physical or mental barriers."

These, and a thousand other reasons, are why educators come back each fall ready to begin anew with new students and new challenges.

As a community, we owe them all a deep debt of gratitude for the work they do to create our future.