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Why I Teach: A Portland-Area High School Teacher Reflects

Monday, September 01, 2014

 

As a new school year begins, I think it’s important for every teacher to answer the question: Why do I teach? This year, this is my answer.

When I reflect on the circumstances that led me into teaching, there are three main things that happened to me prior to declaring as an education major in college. 

First, when I was 17, my father told me that when I went to college I should earn a degree that came with a title. For example, if I were to major in business I wouldn’t leave college as a businessman. But if I had a degree in education, I would exit as a teacher. 

Second, my senior year in high school I had an English teacher named Trece Greene who made her job seem important, fun, and honorable. 

And third, I took an intro to education class as a sophomore in college and I loved it immediately. Path set.

The reasons I stay

Now after 20 years in the classroom, I look at the reasons I stay. 

First, I want to provide for my family and after so many years, and an advanced degree, I can do so with the help of my wife’s fulltime office job. But I know that most people have it rougher than I do. 

Second, I love my job. I can sincerely say that I look forward to each and every day spent with students in the classroom. 

Third, it’s the light bulbs. When a person all of a sudden has an epiphany and figures something out, light bulbs appear over their head. I love seeing light bulbs in my class. 

Fourth, I teach because there is honor in my chosen profession. Serving 150 students in my classroom and the other 1,400 in my school is a task that I take seriously. When a parent releases their child - the most important thing in the world to them - to my school and also to me for guidance, instruction, mentoring, compassion, and a myriad of other roles which can pop up, I don’t want to let those parents or children down in any way. I still remember my sixth grade teacher who was mean to me in front of the class and would pick on most of the kids. She haunts me. I do not want to be that person and have no respect for any teacher that does the same. Conversely, I remember my fourth grade teacher who made me believe that I could accomplish anything. To this day, that man, Jon Snyder, is a huge inspiration.

Low points

There have been some low points in my career so far. The worst thing as a teacher is having a student die. The pain and anguish doesn’t compare to the pain the family feels, but it is difficult to pick up the pieces. I’ve lost too many students. One to murder, one to drowning, one to a plane crash, one to suicide, one to a car crash, one to cancer, and I carry all of them with me. I’ve given eulogies. I’ve stood in front of a class where a chair sat empty and talked to the other 30 students about carrying on. I’ve been in living rooms with mothers and fathers who have just lost their child and cried with them. Low points. All teachers have them.

There are also victories. There have been invitations to weddings from former students. There have been former students who became English teachers. There have been numerous thank you cards, college graduation announcements, and friendly messages on social media or e-mail. All of those things make me feel like I have made a difference. Academically, there have been kids who didn’t think they could accomplish something, who accomplished it. There have been students who have moved their tassel from one side to the other, who made it through dire circumstances and against all odds, to graduate. 

Last year was rewarding and when a student wins, I feel like I win. I had students read their very first book. I had a student whose father had died a couple years prior, who in a writing assignment, wrote about him, showed me, and thanked me for the opportunity. I had one student publish two essays in an online magazine. I had a student write about her eating disorder and get help. I had a student write about his mother who had overdosed, dealing with it for the first time. I had students try to skip class for my class because they heard good things were happening there. I had students get an actual library card. I had students tell me (incorrectly) “I write well now because of you.” 

Honoring the covenant

These aren’t measureable test score results that will be submitted to the state so that I may be evaluated and deemed to be proficient or not. These are real. These are victories where I feel like I am honoring the covenant between myself and parent. Where I am serving my students as best as I can. 

Twenty years down and twenty to go. Why do I teach? Because I woudln't want to do anything else. 

Ben Jatos is in his 21st year of teaching secondary English. His opinions are his own and in no way represent the views of his school district. He is passionate about his family, the Portland Trail Blazers, the writing of Raymond Carver, and educating young people. For more of his opinions and reviews of literature for the classroom, check out his blog at www.benjatos.com .

Homepage Photo Credit: stevegarfield via Compfight cc

 

Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Top Portland Metro High Schools

GoLocalPDX has ranked the top high schools in the metro area using a method developed in Babson College, Mass. High schools were ranked based on complete data available.

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#46

Roosevelt High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 771

Economically disadvantaged: 76%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 78.1%

Met or exceeded math standards: 59%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 47.9%

Met or exceeded science standards: 19.5%

Four year graduation rate: 69.9%

Photo Credit: Visitor7 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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#45

Madison High 

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1025

Economically disadvantaged: 68%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 72.2%

Met or exceeded math standards: 64.9%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 51.3%

Met or exceeded science standards: 37.4%

Four year graduation rate: 71%

Photo Credit: kamera kızı via Compfight cc

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#44

Parkrose High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 951

Economically disadvantaged: 68%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 83.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 65.3%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 53.6%

Met or exceeded science standards: 52.6%

Four year graduation rate: 69%

Photo Credit: M.O. Stevens - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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#43

David Douglas High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 3027

Economically disadvantaged: 74%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 78.2%

Met or exceeded math standards: 61.9%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 52.2%

Met or exceeded science standards: 52.9%

Four year graduation rate: 71.6%

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#42

Alliance High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 224

Economically disadvantaged: 58%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 73.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 42.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 33.3%

Met or exceeded science standards: 43.2%

Four year graduation rate: 20.9%

Photo Credit:  @RunRockPrincess viaCompfight cc

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#41

Hillsboro High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1315

Economically disadvantaged: 55%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 77.3%

Met or exceeded math standards: 68.1%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 52.6%

Met or exceeded science standards: 38.4%

Four year graduation rate: 71.6%

Photo Credit: M.O. Stevens - via Wikimedia Commons.

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#40

Molalla High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 739

Economically disadvantaged: 38%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 86.7%

Met or exceeded math standards: 73.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 49.1%

Met or exceeded science standards: 63.4%

Four year graduation rate: 75.2%

Photo Credit: Tedder - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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#39

Reynolds High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 2468

Economically disadvantaged: 65%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 84.6%

Met or exceeded math standards: 67.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 43.5%

Met or exceeded science standards: 58.9%

Four year graduation rate: 62.7%

Photo Credit: 

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#38

Milwaukie High 

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1053

Economically disadvantaged: 57%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 77.1%

Met or exceeded math standards: 64.2%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 51.2%

Met or exceeded science standards: 67.8%

Four year graduation rate: 70.9%

Photo Credit: Pingveno - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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#37

Centennial High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1665

Economically disadvantaged: 57%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 86.6%

Met or exceeded math standards: 78.9%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 62.7%

Met or exceeded science standards: 42.3%

Four year graduation rate: 78.7%

Photo Credit: naosuke ii via Compfight cc

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#36

Gresham High 

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1667

Economically disadvantaged: 52%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 83.9%

Met or exceeded math standards: 67.4%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 58.7%

Met or exceeded science standards: 59.7%

Four year graduation rate: 72.5%

Photo Credit: M.O. Stevens - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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#35

Benson Polytechnic High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 819

Economically disadvantaged: 68%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 87.1%

Met or exceeded math standards: 75.9%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 40.8%

Met or exceeded science standards: 84%

Four year graduation rate: 82.2%

Photo Credit: EncMstr - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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#34

Liberty High 

Washington County

Enrollment: 1386

Economically disadvantaged: 46%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 89.8%

Met or exceeded math standards: 76%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 53.3%

Met or exceeded science standards: 65.8%

Four year graduation rate: 79.6%

Photo Credit: Aboutmovies

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#33

Aloha High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1962

Economically disadvantaged: 61%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 82.7%

Met or exceeded math standards: 64.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 62.2%

Met or exceeded science standards: 60.2%

Four year graduation rate: 72.2%

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#32

Sandy High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1286

Economically disadvantaged: 36%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 86.4%

Met or exceeded math standards: 69%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 59%

Met or exceeded science standards: 71.6%

Four year graduation rate: 76%

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#31

Glencoe High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1601

Economically disadvantaged: 39%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 88.3%

Met or exceeded math standards: 70.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 58.4%

Met or exceeded science standards: 69.9%

Four year graduation rate: 77.1%

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#30

Banks High

Washington County

Enrollment: 384

Economically disadvantaged: 23%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 91.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 79.8%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 57.4%

Met or exceeded science standards: 81.1%

Four year graduation rate: 80.6%

Photo Credit: frankjuarez via Compfight cc

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#29

Clackamas Middle College

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 290

Economically disadvantaged: 28%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 91.4%

Met or exceeded math standards: 76.3%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 59.3%

Met or exceeded science standards: 78%

Four year graduation rate: 32.6%

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Maya83 via Compfight cc

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#28

Estacada High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 589

Economically disadvantaged: 46%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 89.9%

Met or exceeded math standards: 77.7%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 59%

Met or exceeded science standards: 66.4%

Four year graduation rate: 71.8%

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#27

Putnam High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1196

Economically disadvantaged: 39%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 88.6%

Met or exceeded math standards: 73.4%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 69.9%

Met or exceeded science standards: 59.3%

Four year graduation rate: 75.7%

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#26

Gladstone High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 677

Economically disadvantaged: 40%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 88.7%

Met or exceeded math standards: 77.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 66%

Met or exceeded science standards: 82.2%

Four year graduation rate: 78.9%

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#25

Franklin High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1387

Economically disadvantaged: 56%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 89.2%

Met or exceeded math standards: 77.7%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 68.1%

Met or exceeded science standards: 59.8%

Four year graduation rate: 78.4%

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#24

Century High School

Washington County

Enrollment: 1608

Economically disadvantaged: 43%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 87.8%

Met or exceeded math standards: 78.6%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 62.7%

Met or exceeded science standards: 72.9%

Four year graduation rate: 84.8%

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#23

Sam Barlow High School

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1651

Economically disadvantaged: 38%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 84.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 78.4%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 68.8%

Met or exceeded science standards: 76.7%

Four year graduation rate: 81.8%

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#22

Forest Grove High School

Washington County

Enrollment: 1779

Economically disadvantaged: 59%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 89.4%

Met or exceeded math standards: 85.7%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 66.6%

Met or exceeded science standards: 61.1%

Four year graduation rate: 72.5%

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#21

Canby High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1481

Economically disadvantaged: 32%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 87.3%

Met or exceeded math standards: 84%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 71.5%

Met or exceeded science standards: 61.6%

Four year graduation rate: 82.5%

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#20

Oregon City Senior High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 2117

Economically disadvantaged: 34%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 90.8%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 63%

Met or exceeded science standards: 76.7%

Four year graduation rate: 83%

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#19

Beaverton High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1588

Economically disadvantaged: 43%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 90%

Met or exceeded math standards: 76.7%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 70.7%

Met or exceeded science standards: 65.4%

Four year graduation rate: 74.2%

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#18

Colton High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 215

Economically disadvantaged: 28%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 90%

Met or exceeded math standards: 76%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 68%

Met or exceeded science standards: 85.1%

Four year graduation rate: 95.2%

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#17

Tualatin High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1714

Economically disadvantaged: 27%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.2%

Met or exceeded math standards: 76.7%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 62.9%

Met or exceeded science standards: 71.4%

Four year graduation rate: 84.4%

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#16

Tigard High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1835

Economically disadvantaged: 32%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.7%

Met or exceeded math standards: 83.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 64.5%

Met or exceeded science standards: 67.7%

Four year graduation rate: 80.8%

Photo Credit: Aboutmovies - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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#15

Sherwood High 

Washington County

Enrollment: 1469

Economically disadvantaged: 15%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 85.8%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 62.2%

Met or exceeded science standards: 84.8%

Four year graduation rate: 91.3%

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#14.

Wilsonville High 

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1093

Economically disadvantaged: 24%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 74.1%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 74.2%

Met or exceeded science standards: 71.3%

Four year graduation rate: 85%

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#13

Clackamas High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 2230

Economically disadvantaged: 29%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 91.7%

Met or exceeded math standards: 85.7%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 80.5%

Met or exceeded science standards: 74.2%

Four year graduation rate: 85.5%

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#12

Southridge High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1722

Economically disadvantaged: 27%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 91.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 80.4%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 66.3%

Met or exceeded science standards: 68.9%

Four year graduation rate: 88.5%

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#11

Grant High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1489

Economically disadvantaged: 24%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.6%

Met or exceeded math standards: 83.3%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 70.3%

Met or exceeded science standards: 66.4%

Four year graduation rate: 84.3%

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#10

Westview High

Washington County

Enrollment: 2418

Economically disadvantaged: 33%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.2%

Met or exceeded math standards: 81.8%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 75.4%

Met or exceeded science standards: 70.3%

Four year graduation rate: 80.1% 

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#9

Cleveland High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1457

Economically disadvantaged: 29%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.6%

Met or exceeded math standards: 80.2%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 81.4%

Met or exceeded science standards: 59.7%

Four year graduation rate: 76.2%

Photo Credit: Tedder - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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#8

Sunset High

Washington County

Enrollment: 1942

Economically disadvantaged: 29%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 94.7%

Met or exceeded math standards: 83.3%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 76.8%

Met or exceeded science standards: 79.7%

Four year graduation rate: 81.4%

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#7

Wilson High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1185

Economically disadvantaged: 22%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 91.8%

Met or exceeded math standards: 80.4%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 82.8%

Met or exceeded science standards: 63.8%

Four year graduation rate: 84.4%

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#6.

West Linn High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1514

Economically disadvantaged: 10%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 87.9%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 85.8%

Met or exceeded science standards: 83.2%

Four year graduation rate: 93.2%

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#5

Riverdale High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 242

Economically disadvantaged: <6%*

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 89.8%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 74.6%

Met or exceeded science standards: 74.6%

Four year graduation rate: 94.2%

* For less than six percent an asterisk is used on Oregon Department of Education data. 

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#4

School of Science & Technology 

Washington County

Enrollment: 167

Economically disadvantaged: 20%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 86%

Met or exceeded science standards: 63.9%

Four year graduation rate: 81.1%

Photo Credit:  crazytales562 via Compfightcc

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#3

Lincoln High

Multnomah County

Enrollment: 1471

Economically disadvantaged: 12%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 92.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 85.3%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 88.1%

Met or exceeded science standards: 79.9%

Four year graduation rate: 89.3%

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#2

Lakeridge High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1078

Economically disadvantaged: 8%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 93.9%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 91.8%

Met or exceeded science standards: 92.1%

Four year graduation rate: 89.9%

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#1

Lake Oswego Senior High

Clackamas County

Enrollment: 1224

Economically disadvantaged: 6%

Met or exceeded reading standards: 97.5%

Met or exceeded math standards: 92.4%

Met or exceeded writing standards: 89.1%

Met or exceeded science standards: 87.7%

Four year graduation rate: 89.5%

Photo Credit: KristinNador via Compfight cc

 
 

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