[ Teaching & Learning ]

Why I teach

secondary-level English teacher Matt Haynes in a purple shirt and black and white tie


Matt Haynes is a secondary-level English teacher at Tri-Valley Central School in Sullivan County and president of the Tri-Valley Teachers Association. He also serves on the NYSUT Board of Directors.

When I was in eighth grade, life as I knew it suddenly changed: my parents — my two rocks still to this day — sat me and my two brothers down and told us they were splitting up. Being at the vulnerable age of 13, you can certainly imagine the emotions I was feeling. When it came to school, my motto turned pretty simple: keep my head down and fly under the radar.

Over my lifetime I have met many, many people who have had a positive impact on me. Thankfully, two of these people came around exactly at the right time: my high school science and social studies teachers.

Mr. McFee was my science teacher. What I most fondly remember about him was the absolute passion that he taught with. He made every lecture seem meaningful. The way he spoke, the passion he spoke with, was inspiring. I left his class with a newfound determination: to find something I cared that much about.

Mr. Walls was my social studies teacher. Yes, he taught me about history. But he also took an interest in my personal life. He would speak to me outside of class, generally inquiring about how I was doing. Quite simply, his kindness made me feel that I mattered.

I’m now in year 18 as a middle and high school English teacher, and I love it as much today as I did in year one. Thanks to Mr. McFee, I try to teach with passion every single day. There’s nothing I love more than watching my students get excited about learning.

But more importantly, as Mr. Walls taught me, I try my hardest to make sure that every single one of my students knows that I care about them. I attend my students’ events. I hold conversations outside of the classroom. I’m there for them for their ups and for their downs. I try my very best to let them know that they matter.

As teachers, we never really know what our students are going through. But like Mr. McFee, if I exhibit passion, it has the chance to make a difference. Like Mr. Walls, if I’m kind and compassionate, I can make a difference. I know this with certainty because I know what my teachers did for me.

So what exactly is my why? It’s actually quite simple. In my 18 years, I can only hope I’ve had this impact on some students. And even if I haven’t, I know there is no doubt that I will continue to strive for this for the rest of my career. My life was changed because of my teachers. You better believe I’m trying my hardest to pay it back.

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What’s your why?

Countless talking heads outside the classroom have a lot to say. We want to hear from you. Why did you choose the teaching profession — and why do you stay? Send submissions up to 450 words, along with a photo, to united@nysut.org.