1 Why Teach?

Jennifer Beasley and Myra Haulmark

A high school student teacher leads preschool students in an art activity

Why do teachers teach? It is a rather simple question, however, the question of what is a teacher must be addressed first. Merriam-Webster’s definition of a teacher is “one whose occupation is to instruct” (Merriam-Webster, 2008, para. 1). That is a rather one-dimensional definition of a teacher, as teachers these days offer so much more to the class than just the information; they offer themselves. A collective definition of a teacher is someone who “yearns to help children learn, watch them grow, and make a meaningful difference in the world” (Teacher Support Network, 2007, para. 2). This definition must be the main reason why individuals pursue teaching as a career. Generally, the pay is low to fair, but the overall rewards are much greater.  As a teacher, one can touch the hearts of the young and open their minds to tap their thirst for knowledge.

Objectives and Key Terms

In this chapter, readers will…

  • Understand that the decision to teach is motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
  • Identify reasons for teaching
  • Define the role of a teacher in current society

Key terms in the chapter are…

  • Intrinsic reward
  • Extrinsic reward
  • Teacher
  • Compensation
  • Benefits

The Educator Pathway

There are multiple pathways to becoming a teacher, but it can be a lengthy process no matter the pathway.  In the state of Arkansas, for example, a traditional teaching pathway requires that you have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, as well as pass certification tests.  There are other alternative pathways as well, but many of you are taking your first step by taking an introductory course in education.  Sometimes a first step on the pathway to a career is to decide on the level you wish to teach, Elementary or Secondary, as well as your academic subject major(s) and/or minor(s).  All of your coursework at any university will depend on the level you wish to teach and your major and/or minor.

Arkansas has several certification levels.  They are:

  • Birth to Kindergarten
  • Kindergarten through 6
  • Grades 6 through 8
  • Grades 7 through 12

More information can be found on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

As you consider the grades you are looking to teach, consider these certification bands.  Talking with an advisor at your chosen four-year university will help you decide what may be best for you.  Each university will have its own requirements.  Some of them will require you to spend a certain number of hours working with students before you can apply for acceptance into the program.  Other universities may require you to write an admission essay.   At this stage in your development, you should sit down with an advisor from the university you wish to attend.  They will be able to map out a course for you so that you make the best use of your time and money and know the process for acceptance into their university.

Teaching is not often sought after for the salary,  but one with long hours and a flat rate of pay. The income, of course, depends on where the teacher is instructing. Private schools, parochial schools, and charter schools, in general, tend to have lower pay scales.  This is because they may not have the same revenue base as the public schools.  An educator’s compensation (what is rewarded for a service) can include money as well as benefits such as health insurance and retirement.  This compensation can vary across states and countries.

What do you think?

Cartoon owl sitting on a book is licensed under CC0.


2018-2019 Teacher Salary Benchmark Report or Educator Pay and State Spending

However, educators may choose to teach in these schools because of the schools’ philosophy, religious preferences, or a variety of other reasons.  Regardless of the reason, most educators will agree they went into teaching because they have the desire to spread knowledge, and/or to watch children reach their full potential.

Reasons for Teaching: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards

Researchers have identified a set of occupational rewards that can help us determine the qualities that might attract people to a teaching career (Feiman-Nemser & Floden, 1986).  These rewards can be categorized as either extrinsic or intrinsic.

Extrinsic rewards are those that are more public such as money, prestige, and power.  Intrinsic rewards are those discussed in the earlier part of the chapter. They are more internal, such as satisfaction with a job well done, or the enjoyment of the work itself. The rewards received by being a teacher are different than those received by someone like a salesman, for example.  If a salesman is doing well, he makes his quota, and he then earns his monetary bonus.  He may receive a plaque to hang behind his desk stating that he was the number one salesman for this period in time.

Intrinsic rewards are more internal rewards. Teachers’ rewards are not so tangible, but rather, “They are rewarded more by witnessing their students succeed and follow their dreams than by any plaque “ (Daily Egyptian, 2005).  A group of school teachers who had participated in a study that looked into why teachers taught in high-challenge schools, jointly agreed that what their students achieved under their instruction was rewarded enough for all the time that they devote to their students.  “Student achievement was another reward the teachers discussed as a reason for staying.  When their students were successful, the teachers felt incredibly rewarded.” (Morris, 2007, pg 58).  The reward teachers receive is a feeling, and feelings are more special and memorable than gold and silver plaques hung stoically on a wall proclaiming an individual’s success.  For teaching, it is not about what the teachers can achieve, but what they can get their students to achieve, and through their students, reflect a teacher’s greatest achievement.

Reasons for Teaching: Passion, Love, and Creativity


There are multiple factors in deciding to become a teacher.  For one, it is a healthy alternative to other professions as the Training Development Agency’s (TDA) research has found that about twice as many teachers truly enjoy their work, as opposed to those who have careers in marketing, IT, and accounting (TDA, In Summary, para. 1). Work is not truly work, if it is enjoyed.  For example, Beth Ashfield, a math teacher, spoke of her job with passion, “I love my subject, but I know it’s not socially acceptable to say that… in school, I can be as enthusiastic as I want to be. I’m able to convey that enthusiasm to the students, to allow them to become confident and creative in their approach to the subject” (TDA, Beth Ashfield, Maths teacher, para. 1).  Becoming a teacher was important for her, due to her great love of a particular subject, and the desire to share it with others in hopes that they might discover the same for themselves.  As a teacher, one is always learning, whether it is of one’s content material or something new from a pupil.  Being a teacher requires an open mind, for the teacher is always the student.  A teacher guides his or her charges on a path to self-discovery where they can learn about the world, and ultimately, themselves.


Beyond passion, another reason that teachers teach is simply for the love of teaching.  As stated by (Liston & Garrison, 2003) Love is a “creative, critical, and disruptive force in teaching and learning.”  A teacher who loves his or her job will be a better teacher and have a greater impact on the students he or she influences.  Classroom efforts to manage, instruct and direct groups of twenty to thirty students frequently require a feeling for others and an intuition that connects teacher to student and subject matter (Liston & Garrison, 2003).  For the new teacher, the multiple tasks entailed in this activity can be overwhelming. (Liston & Garrison, 2003)  For the experienced teacher, they can seem almost unconscious (Liston & Garrison, 2003).  Most teachers truly have passion for what they do, but they also have a love for it as well.


Young Child sitting on a stack of books reading a book
This image is licensed under CC0

“Every person is unique and the challenge is to find fun ways to guide individuals to learn and understand what they are interested in learning” (B. Anders, personal communication, February 2, 2008). There are many ways to be creative in the classroom, whether it is using projects, videos, and presentations, but what if the creativity stemmed from the teacher?

Being creative is important in teaching, for the students are the audience.

“Every person is unique and the challenge is to find fun ways to guide individuals to learn and understand what they are interested in learning”


No one knows this better than entertainers, who are creative and use their ingenuity to bring to life rather dull aspects of education.  This in and of itself is talent, and some devote themselves to that.  Paul Keogh, a Modern Languages teacher, had always aspired to be an entertainer, however, he chose teaching as his profession instead.  He equated teaching to entertainment, but more importantly, he remarks, “I love to see them growing personally, socially and academically” (TDA, Paul Keogh, Modern Languages teacher, para. 3).  This statement itself encompasses the point of education, for there cannot be growth without learning.

Why do teachers teach?

To address the opening question, “Why do teachers teach?”, the answer is simple; “They teach for the love of children and to contribute to the well-being of all of us” (Teachers are Important, 1998, para. 4).  It is something inside them. It is a drive, a force, a passion, a talent that they wish to dispel upon their students to watch them succeed.  Choosing to be a teacher is not for the money, as a teacher’s monetary compensation is hardly adequate given all that they give to their students.  Becoming a teacher is almost like heeding a calling.  It is not for the light at heart, but rather, for those who love children and people, who have a passion for education, and who love to share in that passion.  Teachers yearn to see the burning desire to learn and love to see the excitement of discovery, and that is why teachers teach.


Read the following scenarios, How would you characterize their motivation to teach?




Watch the following video with this question in mind:  Is this teacher speaking to a more intrinsic or extrinsic reward for teaching?


Dig Deeper

The following resources are provided when “digging deeper” into the chapter:

Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Robert E. Floden, “The Culture of Teaching,” in The Handbook of Research on Teaching, ed. Merlin C. Witrock (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 510–511.

Modified from “Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment” by Alyschia Conn, Jasmine Tucay and Sarah Wolff licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 and “Education 2010 – Introduction to Education” by Brenda Alward.


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Introduction to Education Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer Beasley and Myra Haulmark is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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