You wonder why teachers teach? This. A thousand times THIS.

Why Teachers Teach

We’ve all had our “aha” moments as teachers. Those days where everything clicks, the students are not only engaged but also empowered, and for a minute we remember why we chose to join this amazing (and often extremely challenging) profession.

My moment was when I rolled out the 20% Project to my students in 2011. It changed the way I thought about teaching and learning. It changed my mindset on what was not only possible in the classroom, but what kind of impact my students could have on the world while they were still in school.

This summer I released the Genius Hour Master Course and over 700 teachers are enrolled in the course, learning, sharing, and failing together while doing Genius Hour/20% Time projects in the classroom. Our Facebook group has had some wonderful discussions, but I wanted to share this comment by Sunday Crider.

It speaks to everything we believe as teachers, and why we do what we do, even when it is the hardest job in the world. Thanks for sharing this Sunday Crider!

Why Teachers Teach

Today was our Friday Genius Hour (Passion Projects) in all my classes (I teach Biology, A&P and Forensics, but Fridays are time to explore something completely different).

Y’all… I got chill bumps. Long post ahead.

I showed the video “The Millennial Rebuttal”, and we discussed how we can use our passions to make an impact. I had asked them all to make a list of the things they liked (their passions). And then we went through the exercise of how they could take their passion and use it for purpose. In each case, I played the antagonist so that they would dig deeper.

“I like to sew”
“I like computers”
“I like tattooing”

My response was “So?! Let’s dig deeper!”

They were to take each passion, identify a problem, and then come up with a purpose. That’s where the magic happened.

“I like to sew.” “So?!” I replied. “I like to sew,” she said. “And I know that when people go they chemo, they have to sit in cold rooms while they do it. I like to sew and I’d like to make blankets for cancer patients.”

“I like computers.” “So?!?” I replied. “I like computers and I see a need to improve how teachers and students communicate. I’d like to create an app that allows teachers to create a calendar and upload assignments so that kids could easily access them. ”

“I like tattoos.” “Really?” I said. We had discussed how women that had to have their breasts removed due to cancer often needed tattooing to help improve the look of the reconstructed version. That had caught her interest. “I like tattoos, and I want to be a tattoo artist. But I want to help those that are scarred. I have friends that self-harm and are left with visible scars later in life. I would like to be the one that covers those with something beautiful.”

This kind of stuff happened all morning. Profound stuff.

Last class ended at lunch. Student comes up to me and says, “I need to talk to you. I want you to thank you for doing this. I’ve struggled for a way to feel significant and I think I’ve found my opportunity. Thank you for doing this.”

I almost started bawling.

You wonder why teachers teach? This. This. A thousand times THIS.

Now, time to go work on some my other, my own, passion projects.

Have you ever had one of those moments with your students? Please share in the comments below!

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Karen Kraeger says:

    This IS why I teach! When I saw Nicholas Provenzano’s Genius Hour presentation at GaETC a couple of years ago, I got goosebumps. I knew all the way down to my bones that my 5th graders HAD to experience Genius Hour! They did, and it ROCKED! Many told me that it was the first time they ever got to choose what they wanted to learn about in school. That made me want to cry–so sad! When they shared their projects, the adults in the audience were pretty choked up, and so was I. They far exceeded anything I expected from 5th graders. The next year, the projects and the impact were even more amazing! I won’t turn back now! I’m hooked and so are the kids!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      “Many told me that it was the first time they ever got to choose what they wanted to learn about in school.” – This is a very real truth. Students spend over 14,000 hours in school K-12 and rarely get to choose what they learn. Happy you shared this story and win!

  • Robin Rodriquez says:

    I discuss with my 6th grade students about how they need to start thinking about what they want to do for a career. I throw out ideas for them to think about and chew on and I share my own two sons career choices and how they are not the choices that I thought for sure they would choose. When I told my students about my youngest son wanting to be a video game programmer and how his desire to do this made him be a better student in school because he knew he would need the core education. I shared with them that he was told that entry level game programmers could start out making $80,000 a year. After class one of my male students came to me and thanked me for the lesson that day. He said, “I now know what career I want to go for. I love computers, I love video games, it’s a no brainer!” Thank you so much Mrs. Rodriquez for giving me a direction!” He had always been a goof-off student, turning work in late and of poor quality. From that day forward, his work was on time and it was his very best work. He paid attention in class and was a model student. I’m going to keep my eye on him, I know he will do great things. Just glad I had a part in it!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      These are the types of positive stories we need to share with our colleagues, admin, and parents when it comes to advocating for student choice. Thanks for sharing!

  • Bobbi Blasjo says:

    Last year I had my first parent meeting for Genius Hour presentations. One of my students who struggled all year long and who is multi-lingual presented his idea for a one world language. His purpose was to create peace and harmony. During his presentation I nearly burst into tears as I listened to him share what he had learned. His passion was evident. This year I have an entire class of English learners who are new to this country or who are challenged by the acquisition of English (who isn’t?). We will start Genius Hour in a few weeks. I can’t wait to see what they will do.

  • Robyn Matus says:

    Hi AJ,

    I am not a teacher but it is truly fantastic listening to your positive stories and the comments along with it. Passionate and innovative teachers leave a profound impact on students.

    I hope you keep sharing stories like this one and that other teachers can be inspired.

    Thanks for posting,

    Robyn Matus

  • P.Agu says:

    Hi, AJ!

    Thank you for sharing this! I have been following your posts on Genius Hour for some time now, and am very inspired by the concept. So inspired that two years ago, I proposed a very abridged version to my principal where students spent 10 minutes a day, at the end of every week tying their interests to what they learned, and thinking of something they can create as a result. I am currently taking a class on the Technology and Science of Learning where we learned about the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework where teachers customize learning to the individual learning needs of the students. I am wondering if you have any suggestions on how one can frame/ embed Genius Hour in the Universal Design for Learning. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

  • Sumeya says:

    i am really inspired by these motivating activities. it helps to enable students to get rid of classroom boredom. I’m teaching secondary students in Sudan for more than ten years. we have some activities for warming up ( usually in a series manner) its called sentence completion which is normally connected to facts rather than fiction. but after following your program, I know how it can be varied to add flavor to classroom activities.

  • Gillian McCollum says:

    This year I had one of my 3rd graders in tears during his genius hour pitch. He felt so passionately about the declining bee population that he simply could not continue. After a short break, he was able to articulate to his 8 year old peers why it is such a problem and is currently researching what is already being done to solve the problem, and is brainstorming his own solutions for creating flower gardens around our city.
    Other students have been researching homelessness in our area and are looking forward to contacting shelters and help centers to set up food and clothing drives. One student even recommended job counseling and skills training. A third grader! With no prompting! It never ceases to amaze me how our young people are grappling with large issues, and we get to come along for the ride as we witness their empowerment. THIS is why I teach.

  • I’ve been teaching for almost 19 years and it is quite evident that in our profession, we are on to something greater than ourselves here. Our kids today are literally starving for our attention and they need the ability to make assignment choices in our individual classrooms. It is up to us to foster an environment for learning that is both fun and has choice as a common element. When students embark on a new assignment with us as their guides, we can empower them to see a future without limits. many of my students come to school with low self-esteem and don’t think they can ever be good or great at anything. We all need to realize that for many of our students, school is the best part of their day in many cases. Although that may seem a sad comment, we have the power to make their time with us great and we can add even more meaningful experiences to their lives. Don’t be disheartened when this job of teaching seems like it’s getting stale. You have the power and the potential to make this profession what it needs to be for your kids. Never forget that you are trying to fill them with knowledge and help them find their purpose to become productive members of society. God Bless all of us for taking on this most important responsibility. There is truly no greater purpose that trying to make a positive difference in the lives of children. TEACHER’S ROCK!!!

  • Maura says:

    Do you have the link to the video? It isn’t working!

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