Hear full audio from each of the five teacher storytellers who spoke at last week's Why I Teach event.

Share story

The stories shared by five teachers last week at Education Lab’s latest public event had several common themes. Feelings of being overwhelmed and overworked. The struggle to reach students who have experienced personal setbacks. Moments of victory, when the teachers realized they made a difference in a student’s life.

Storytellers: Why I Teach was EdLab’s third storytelling event, held Wednesday on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

Special thanks to our partners, the University of Washington College of Education and 88.5 KPLU, which recorded all five stories, will air some of them on Monday’s morning and afternoon newscasts, and also will feature them online here and here.  

Lyon Terry, Washington’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, served as the evening’s emcee. Go here to see more photos and audience reaction from the event.

The evening began with Britt Harris, a veteran teacher from Shorewood High School in Shoreline. Harris has taught for 25 years, but said teaching is always a challenge. “I still make mistakes,” she said.  “I still get nervous on the first day of school, and at open house.”

She acknowledged frequently feeling overwhelmed but sticks with teaching because it is her calling: “This isn’t a job. It isn’t a career. It’s a passion.”

Britt Harris, a veteran teacher in the Shoreline School District, shared some of the doubts she still faces after 25 years as an educator. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Britt Harris, a veteran teacher in the Shoreline School District, shared some of the doubts she still faces after 25 years as an educator. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Next up was Marquita Prinzing, a fourth-grade teacher at Dearborn Park Elementary in Seattle. Prinzing talked about her relationship with a student who had a reputation for being a bully. Prinzing decided to set aside the rumors she had heard when she first met the girl. “I told her that her boots were awesome, and I liked the color. She smiled. No one mentioned her smile.”

Marquita Prinzing, a fourth-grade teacher at Dearborn Park Elementary, told a story about building a relationship with a student who was known as a troublemaker. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Marquita Prinzing, a fourth-grade teacher at Dearborn Park Elementary, told a story about building a relationship with a student who was known as a troublemaker. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Mario Penalver, a language-arts teacher at Truman Middle School in Tacoma, took a more personal approach with his story. Penalver, who has attention deficit disorder, shared how being labeled at a young age with words like “remedial” and “nuisance” has inspired him to reach out to students who think or act differently from their peers. “That’s, to me, where teaching begins — when you start thinking about the way to teach to that student, as opposed to making them someone they can’t be.”

Mario Penalver, a teacher at Tacoma Public Schools, talked about the importance of avoiding giving students negative labels.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Mario Penalver, a teacher at Tacoma Public Schools, talked about the importance of avoiding giving students negative labels. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Garfield High School teacher Andrea Soroko started off with a powerful anecdote about an African-American student who creates a white alter ego who doesn’t face the same challenges as he does in real life. “He explained that ‘Johnny’ motivates himself to do his homework, get good grades, try harder on the football field,” she said.

Garfield High School teacher Andrea Soroko spoke about trying to convince a student that it was OK to just be himself.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Garfield High School teacher Andrea Soroko spoke about trying to convince a student that it was OK to just be himself. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Bellevue teacher Kristin Leong shared how she helps students find their own voices and gain confidence as performers. “I tell the kids right from the first day of school that we’re all going to be performers this year. It totally freaks them out. I tell them it’s OK because we’re all just going to practice being brave over and over again until we actually become brave. And we do, every single year. And this is why I teach.”

Bellevue teacher Kristin Leong talked about how spoken-word poetry has helped her students break out of their shells.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Bellevue teacher Kristin Leong talked about how spoken-word poetry has helped her students break out of their shells. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)