“Why do you teach?” Back to school. Day one.  Professional Development. A familiar scene. As we gathered in a circle of introduction we were asked to answer this question. There was great variety in the answers:


“It’s a family tradition.”

“I’m giving back.”

“I’m a science geek.”

“I love kids.”

“For the money.” (just kidding)

All great answers that helped me get to know my coworkers a little better. But all short and sweet. My answer was no different.

Alas, time to get into the classroom to unpack, move furniture, set up and begin to check off the many items on my list required to prepare. Suddenly, I was hit by a terrible feeling of anxiety. I was completely overwhelmed! Mandates, curriculum, updates, data collection, assessments, funding, etc. etc.!  The thousands of things that teachers have to do spewed from the back of my mind to the forefront–system overload! I literally had to sit and wipe tears from my eyes. DAY ONE! I am not going to make it through the school year.

“Why do you teach?” The question came back to me. As I contemplated, I started to picture the faces in those seats I had just arranged. I saw their smiles, grimaces, thoughtful expressions, and even their tears. I recalled their dreams, accomplishments, struggles, and talents. I remembered my why. Not the short and simple version I had just given my colleagues. The real why:

They deserve it!

Every kid deserves a chance to improve their personal circumstance, to be inspired to strive for better, and have the tools to succeed. They deserve to create their own definition of success and follow their passions in accomplishing this goal. Students deserve to be taught skills to communicate, problem solve, collaborate, and have a voice in whatever career fields they choose. Children deserve the opportunity to preserve humanity. Our youth deserve assistance in becoming compassionate, active citizens in their own communities, states, country, and globally. They deserve it simply because they are kids!

“Why do you teach?” Ask yourself this question. Take your time to answer, really answer. Write it down. Laminate it! Post it where you can see it daily. On those tough days, when you are wondering if you will make it through another school year, reflect upon it. Bring yourself back to your reasoning. Remember your purpose.

What is your why? 

Michelle Tavares, Special Educator, City Neighbors High School

stephanie and flowersOn the first day of school, my phone alarm gently escalates in volume, the soothing tune nudging me awake at 4:15 AM.  My dog watches me, puzzled, as I prepare for the day, bumbling and bleary eyed.  I stagger to the end of my driveway, my trusty phone now functioning as a flashlight while I wait in the dark.  Very dark.  I see headlights creeping closer and I flick the flashlight setting to strobe, signaling the approaching car that it has reached its destination.

Mike and I drive the 20 minutes or so to the wholesale florist, he mostly grumbling about being coffee-less at such an ungodly hour and me strung out on Dramamine to battle a bout of vertigo.  But once we enter what is essentially an over-sized refrigerator, we sober up pretty quickly.  Mostly motivated by the frigid air, we fall into a rhythm of nimbly selecting bound bunches of flowers, inspecting them briefly while crudely calculating how many stems we have and how many more we need, pausing to puff hot air into our chilled hands, repeating the process until two, two-tiered rolling carts are mounded with larkspurs, sunflowers, asters, and a few that are identified only by their Latin names.

The gentlemen running the place efficiently check us out and, as they begin nestling the flowers in long boxes, Mike says, “I hope these fit in my car.”  To which one of the gentlemen replies, “As long as it isn’t a Prius.”

morning gloriesBy the time we cram Mike’s Prius full of the boxed flowers, the sun is up as is the rest of the city; pink morning glories are blooming along the rusty chain link fence surrounding the parking lot.  We head out, Mike and I barely able to see each other over a flower box strategically slotted between our seats.  We’re feeling better, relieved, reserving our enthusiasm for the actual event we have been preparing for.

We stop at each school and deliver the flower boxes, all to prepare for the first day of school ritual at each City Neighbors school:  Before entering the building, every student at every school selects a single flower, placing it in a vase in their classrooms, one by one creating a bouquet together. The symbolism clear. The ritual meaningful for everyone involved. However, this year, after having witnessed nine years of these first day rituals–although they have been happening since City Neighbors Charter School opened in 2005–I am fatigued and zombie-fied by the Dramamine.  I decide sit this one out, holed up in the office.

Later that morning, Mike sends me photos to share on our social media.  And the first picture I open makes me grin from ear to ear, which is no small feat for anyone who knows me.  The expression on this child’s face after being handed a sunflower (zoom in, if you must) made that early morning trek into a freezer worth the effort.  And, after 13 hours of sleep that night, the memory was sweeter when I woke up the next morning.

Happy 2019-2020!

Stephanie King, Business Manager, City Neighbors Foundation

first day pic

felicity picThis year is a bittersweet one for our family. My daughter, Eve, who has attended City Neighbors Hamilton since kindergarten has finally reached eighth grade, and the time we have at CNH is rapidly coming to a close. On the one hand, she is so ready to move on to high school, but as graduation approaches, many of our conversations circle back to a memory of the last nine years at CNH.

I remember her dancing on the outdoor stage with her principal on her very first day — already feeling safe and welcomed and fearless. By the end of the year, one of her classmates drew a now highly treasured collage of the many moods of Eve, proving she was understood by teachers and friends. I remember watching her class perform a song in first grade, which Eve chose to meow instead of sing the lyrics, and the parents of her classmates turning to smile at us, delighted by her even as I wanted to crawl under my seat. Hard conversations about her grades or behavior with teachers always ended with reassurance that she would be supported as she muddled through whatever issues she was grappling with. I’ve had teachers stop me to share her artwork, to talk about her valued input in class, to celebrate her emerging sense of who she is and where she wants to go.

The support we’ve received at CNH has been remarkable. That motto, “Known. Loved. Inspired.,” is day-to-day living, not just a pretty slogan for a t-shirt. Teachers across the school know her, not just the ones she has that year. I remember walking into an office and meeting a new teacher who asked me who my child was, not because he didn’t know her, but because he found our resemblance to each other uncanny and he wanted to make sure his instincts about who my child was were correct. And he wasn’t even her classroom teacher at the time, but a teacher who had already invested that much work into Eve and her classmates.

This year, my daughter’s class went to Puerto Rico and my husband had the good fortune to go with them. He talked as much about the teachers who were on the trip as he did about Puerto Rico itself. He was blown away by their patience and empathy. Before the trip, my husband was concerned about shepherding 17 teenagers so far away, but those concerns disappeared once he saw the CNH teachers in action.

In June my daughter will put on a pretty new dress, and walk across a stage to receive her “warm diploma”. As a former board president, I have been lucky enough to see all four graduation ceremonies CNH has had, so I know what is coming. Every student is congratulated by a favorite teacher not for finishing the work needed to earn a diploma, but for the growth they’ve shown as a person. Students are recognized for who they are, and who they strive to be, and it is a beautiful and touching ceremony.

For many of us, it will be the last time that our children will be together after so many years as classmates, friends, and family. Many of them, my daughter included, will be transitioning to City Neighbors High School, which will be familiar and yet not the same. And we will make new friends with classmates, teachers, and parents, even while cherishing the memories and friendships we have made for the last nine years.

My daughter is ready for new beginnings. I hope I am as ready for them as she is.

~Felicity Knox, Parent & Former Board President, City Neighbors Hamilton~


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