Reaching Your Potential Through Teaching

By Archana Janardhanan


Archana grew up in the North Hills. After completing her B.A. in English at the University of Michigan in 2004, she worked in New York City for several years before pursuing her master’s degree in Elementary Education at Duquesne University. She now teaches fifth grade at Bradford Woods Elementary School in the North Allegheny School district.

archana-janardhananIt is no secret that medicine and engineering are the most popular career choices for Indian-Americans. It makes sense: our parents came here with hopes for a better life for their children. They groomed us to be well-educated to choose life paths which would ensure financial security.

However, the world has changed in the intervening years. The goals of second and third generation Indian Americans are not necessarily the same as those of our parents. As the new generations of Indian Americans emerge, I think it may be important for parents to let their children explore other professions in which we may thrive. Young people these days have a heightened awareness and empathy for others that parents need to recognize.

This is why I would like to make the case for teaching. Education is a field in which you are mentally and emotionally challenged each day. There is a level of satisfaction in teaching that no paycheck or prestige could bestow. That satisfaction stems from several aspects of the job.

This year, I had a young student who came to my class at the end of the school year after attending several other schools in the same year. My understanding was that he had behavioral issues which caused some problems with other students.First, let me start with the students. The students are the heart of the profession. They will bring out the best and worst parts of you and thereby allow you to learn some major life lessons.

When he came to my class, he was absolutely wonderful for one week. After that, there was a steady decline in his behavior. He said and did inappropriate things on a daily basis and was even suspended after two weeks. Every time he got in trouble, I spoke to him about his actions and why they were wrong. It seemed I was getting nowhere and my frustration with him was only growing.  In the last week of school, I approached him about another transgression.

The night before, I had read an article about how teachers can prevent suspensions by practicing empathy. I decided to put this into practice. When I approached him about what he did, I didn’t speak about his wrongdoing. Instead, I told him I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to love school and to make friends and to do well in all of his subjects. I told him that I wanted to assist him in practicing behaviors that would help him succeed.

For the first time, he looked me in the eyes when I spoke to him. I will never forget that conversation because I believe it was the first time I connected with him. It made me realize that unless you make an authentic connection with your students — for that matter, with people in general — you cannot have a meaningful impact on them.

Second, your colleagues can be a major source of job satisfaction. When you teach, you are in the trenches every day. You rely on your colleagues for advice, resources, moral support and laughter. Teachers are some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet. They are so used to putting others before themselves that they are usually willing to help you at the drop of a dime. My colleagues have taught me that when you think less of yourself and more of others, you’re happier all around.

The third reason teaching is a worthwhile profession is that you are able to leave your lasting personal imprint on students’ lives. While it is often necessary to adhere to district curriculum standards, once you get used to teaching them, you may use your creativity at your will.

This year, I decided to finish the year with a fun science project. I wanted to make my students aware of the resources all around them and have them incorporate them into our lessons. I decided to arrange a walking field trip to the local community nature reserve. My students took plastic containers and jars and collected various specimens at the reserve.

We then walked back to school and created terrariums (enclosed ecosystems). The students observed the activity in their terrariums each day and kept an ongoing log. For the rest of the year, when they came to science class, they ran to the back of the room to look at their terrariums. I have never witnessed such excitement for a project before this one. We had accomplished our learning objectives while having fun and bringing nature indoors.

While teachers do not make the salary that doctors and engineers make, we have a noble profession all the same. I know that when I look back on my life at the end of it, I will be satisfied and at peace with myself because I have impacted others’ lives in my own way.

If you are trying to finding your life’s path, no matter what age you are, I encourage you to consider teaching. We must bring our best and brightest to this profession because I can think of no one who deserves it more than our children.     ♣

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