If Not You, Then Who?

This piece was originally published in Louisiana Weekly. To learn more about TNTP Teaching Fellows and how to apply, click here

I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. When I learned something exciting in school, I couldn’t wait to run home and teach it to my brother. I wanted to be a changemaker, to make a difference and help people.

Today I teach at George Washington Carver High School in Desire—the same school I graduated from. I sat in the very same seats my students do. It’s a gift. I consider myself so blessed to have this profession.

Yet what I keep hearing about is the teacher shortage—how nobody wants to teach anymore. That especially in the pandemic , the job is just too tough.

Here’s what I say to people who aren’t sure if they want to be teachers: it not you, then who?

Yeah, it’s a hard job. When I first started teaching five years ago, I was kind of a mess. I had a lot to learn—about teaching, about how the school system works. My training through teachNOLA helped me a lot, but it was still tough at first.

How did I get better? In addition to coaching I received, I leaned on my students and the relationships I had with them. I shared what I was working on, and they gave me feedback. I let myself be human around them, and they trusted me in turn. The authentic relationships I have with my kids sustain me. And when they walk across that stage at graduation? There’s nothing like it.

And the thing is, students need us more than ever right now. COVID-19 has made things so much harder. Of course, it’s nobody’s fault, and we have to keep everyone safe. But students have lost some of the experience of what school is and should be. Great teachers can help to fix that. Students need adults that they can relate to and trust, especially during hard times.

So here’s what I say to all of you who are even thinking about becoming a teacher: do it. Yes, it’s hard. But anything worth having is hard. Yes, it takes time to learn how to teach well. But you can do it. What our profession needs is people who have a willing heart, an open heart. Great teachers are great because they care, care enough to pour themselves in to their students’ lives. It’s not about perfection; it’s about intention. If you believe in our kids, we need you in our schools.

Over the past couple of years especially, a lot of people have made comments to me about how horrible my life must be as a teacher. And do I have bad days? Sure. But I believe strongly that teaching isn’t something I have to do—it’s something I get to do. I get to prepare the next generation for society. How amazing is that? I’m so lucky.

Here’s a quick story that sums it up for me. Last month, for a Black History Month project, my students had to make a Powerpoint about a prominent Black person—someone who was important and worth celebrating. One of my students picked me. I couldn’t believe it. But it was a powerful reminder that I’m making a difference. Sure, teaching is tough sometimes. But it is so, so, important. You can literally change lives, each and every day.

So let me ask you again: if not you, then who?

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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