February 9, 2021
When I think about what I love about teaching, the first things that come to mind is the stuff every teacher says. I love shepherding students’ “ah-ha” moments. I love seeing their confidence grow and their communication become clearer. I love when students are passionately discussing the book we’re reading or debating an issue with well-researched evidence.
One of my inspirations for becoming a teacher was working at the rock-climbing wall at the gym on the campus of Wayne State University. I was never a good climber, but I enjoyed it, and I could make it to the top on the easier routes. The wall was one part of the larger gym, and you needed a special wall membership to use it. I would often see patrons approach the wall with mingled fear and curiosity. Most of the day passes I sold were to people who had never tried rock climbing before.
I loved helping the newbies. I loved the way their fear would release into laughter when they were a few feet off the ground. I loved their victorious shouts when they touched the top of the wall for the first time. What I loved most was when someone would turn their day pass into a wall membership, and they would start coming back. They would quickly outstrip my proficiency with the sport, but that didn’t matter. I got to witness that person discover a new hobby, a new passion, and help them improve. I loved having a hand in their personal journey of improvement and self-discovery.
Among other things, this sold me on the idea of teaching. I get to help all those students discover things? To help them improve? For a living?! Sign me up!
Of course, teaching isn’t a pure environment of discovery and improvement. On my worst days in my worst years, I feel like a cog in the machine, or grease in the school-to-prison pipeline. On my best days, I’m engaging students in, as Paulo Freire said, “the praxis of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of the world.”
As I progress in my practice as a teacher, this is what I’m looking for: the places where I’m not just preparing my ninth-graders for 10th
grade, or for college, or for a career, but for the work of meaningfully interacting with the world and making the world a better place.
My love for teaching and for students is my expression of my love for the whole world; it’s my way of leaving the world in better shape than how I found it. I hope my legacy will be one of students transforming the world better into a better place.
Feb. 14-21 is #LoveTeaching Week, “a grassroots campaign started by teachers in 2015 as an opportunity to celebrate teaching, leading, and learning in a way that unites and invigorates educators and those they inspire all around the world.” For more information, visit WeLoveTeaching.org.
About Owen Bondono: I teach ninth grade English in Oak Park, MI. I am white, transgender, middle class, married, bi and able-bodied, and my pronouns are he/him/his. I acknowledge that everything I write is informed by the perspectives and privileges I have been afforded in life. As the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year, I hope to learn from and advocate for all teachers and students in the state, with a focus on building and supporting a diverse teaching force.