Answering The Question
“Why Did You Become a Teacher?”
Over the course of my career as an educator, I’ve found myself being asked this question, the question, by a wide range of people for a variety of reasons. In each instance, my answer is different because there is not just one reason why I teach. There are so many factors that play into my love for educating, and like my students, each one is unique.
When a colleague asks me why I teach, I usually reach back to my upbringing and tell them about my family. I start with the story of Don Ramon (my dad), the unofficial and unelected mayor of Southwest Detroit, who settled here in the late 1960s and began working in the auto factories. Before I was born, he and my mom were migrant farm workers and traveled to several states until they finally came to Detroit. As the story goes, my father decided that he could stay here because the tortilla factory made “good tortillas” that he could get used to. Being a devout Catholic, he dedicated all his children to the service of the church and the Southwest Detroit community. Born and raised in the church community, I was meant to serve. The best way I could honor this dedication to service was to become a teacher and live a good, honest life helping others. I became a bilingual teacher in Detroit because, as an immigrant’s son, I wanted to serve the needs of other immigrant sons and daughters.
Members of my family often ask me the question after seeing all the time commitments and frustrations that come with the job. I must tell them that, “I do it for them”. I teach so that they can believe and dream that all things are possible with a determined heart. My brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews inspire me to make sure that the kids in our community have opportunities, achieve amazing victories and live a self-determined life. I love the look on my younger nephews and nieces when they find out I am a teacher. Their eyes light up with amazement as they ask, “Is Tio Ramon really a teacher?” In those moments I can almost see the future teacher coming out in them.
Teaching helps me to bring out the greatness in others.Ramon Hernandez Jr.
At times a politician or somebody with an agenda will ask me the question and my response will be carefully crafted and centered around the ever-evolving art known as teaching. I want them to know that this is my craft that I have honed over years of interactions with students, parents, co-workers, community members, administrators, and every stakeholder in between. I became a teacher to be an agent of change in a system that often shuts doors and excludes certain sectors of society from higher education and from opportunities to be decision-makers. By teaching, I can battle the systemic racism inherent in our present educational system and I can provide my students with a more equitable education. Teaching in Detroit is the revolution happening in real-time and our community is evolving because of what we are doing in the classroom every day.
Others may ask me the question to probe my answer and attempt to see if I have any doubts about a sometimes-thankless job. But my response is simple: I teach because I am needed and there are very few out there that can teach. Each day I am in a unique position to make a wrong answer turn into a powerful new learning experience. Teaching helps me to bring out the greatness in others.
Finally, I often get asked the question by my students. When this happens, I love to turn it back on them and ask, “If I wasn’t your teacher what do you think I would be?”
There have been some interesting answers over the years, but each time I hear the responses I learn a little bit more about myself and I try to imagine life outside of the classroom.
The question of “why did you become a teacher,” can inspire different responses depending on the person, situation and individual asking. Regardless of the context, there is one thing that always stands true about my career in education: I did not just become a teacher, I was born to be a teacher.
In Detroit, I make a difference and I matter. Teaching is not a job, it is a way of life and it helps to improve the lives of students, educators, and the neighborhoods they are a part of. It is an honor to serve my community every day.
Why did you become a teacher?
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About the Author
Ramon Hernandez Jr. is a mathematics master teacher with the Detroit Public Schools Community District. He currently teaches at the Academy of the Americas High School in Southwest Detroit.