Stories from the Field

California Casualty Awardees Michael Williams: Why I Teach

Great educators have great stories. This series gives a glimpse of the ideas, practices, and experiences of the recipients of the NEA Foundation’s California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. Today, we’re sharing the words of Michael Williams, a social studies educator at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, MD.

Why I teach
Suzy neatly weaves all her childhood angst
Into poetic phrases that are at once
Sharp like a blad and soft like a gentle kiss
Demarcus can teach his former teachers
How to use imagery and vocal juxtaposition
To enrich a text
Because Maria enraptures a national audience
About schools, students, and institutional racism
I teach
Because Julian has power that he doesn’t yet understand
Because Inayah has strength most adults could never muster
Because at 16, Aaminah has spellbound a school board
Waxing eloquent about cultural competency
Because Gabi insists that it is a movement bigger than herself
Because 500 kids marched
Declaring to the world
“Still not closed, still not done, still we rise!”
Each passing the torch
Across time…across school boundaries
Zamari to Skylar, to Jorge, to Nico, to Edom, to Shane, to Miriam
And so on
Each reminding me of why we are here
Reminding me that this is personal
That the past keeps whispering to the present
That I am shaped by yesterday, today, and tomorrow
That the burden, though heavy, is a necessity
I teach
Because too many have died for this
Because as the son of a sharecropper
My grandfather envisioned this
My uncle stood in the trenches for the
Because the 60s did not end the struggle for this
Because my mother continued the fight for this
Because really
It is a matter of life and death
For this – I teach
Because it is personal
Because there is no alternative
I teach
Because there is no better way
To make our world a better place!

Meet more of the 2018 NEA Foundation awardees here. Learn more about the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence criteria and nominations process.

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