Why I Teach

Dr. Nicol Howard is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Learning and Teaching. Dr. Howard  talks about the reasons that motivated her to teach.


In 1994, I was asked “what will you advocate for in this life?” I vividly remember thinking about my own life and responding with “I will advocate for the academic advancement of young students, especially those who face adversities.” Initially, I did not have the perfect plan or explanation of how, or in which capacity, I would do this work. I only knew that I wanted to give back what I received in my academic journey in the form of support and encouragement to students as they navigate their own educational pathways. Throughout the following years, I thought about teaching, but my career path seemed to be headed in a different direction. I worked as a creative manager designing marketing materials for Paramount Picture’s international campaigns during the week, and on the weekends I taught dance in the inner-city. To say I was immersed in my work during the week is an understatement, yet the hours moved slower than snail mail when I thought about teaching on the weekends.

Teaching dance was more than teaching choreography to music. It was like teaching the choreography of life as I mentored my young students.

Years went by before I decided it was time to teach more than on weekends. I began teaching life skills in Compton Unified School District, and I taught 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. My work over the years in K-12 schools was primarily focused on serving underrepresented students, and I worked with future, new, and veteran teachers as they sought to do the same. My choice to teach, whether in K-12 or in higher education, is ultimately motivated by the needs of our students today to hear personal stories about my own teachers and mentors. My mentors were not always my teachers, and my teachers were not always my mentors; however, the support I received from both resonate with me today. I seek to teach with this reach. I strive to be supportive and available for my own students, especially those who have a desire to become teachers themselves. My students’ stories and the potential impact of a teacher’s positive encouragement and support on achievement for underrepresented K-12 students are enough to keep me in this field. I teach today because our future teachers deserve the guidance and support we hope they will offer their own students as they engage in this life-changing work.