Not the What, But the Why.

A few months after moving to D.C., I was quickly able to anticipate the first question most new people I met were going to ask me—“What do you do?” And over the last five years, I have had a few different prepared responses—“I’m a middle school Spanish teacher.” or “I work in education communications.”

Lately, though, I have challenged myself to ask not the what, but the whyThe why might seem too forward or personal at first, but I have found it leads to more connected conversations. It’s what feeds you when your energy is running low. The core of your passion. It’s not just your job title.

Of course, asking the question means reflecting on it myself. Hard questions are always easier to ask than answer.

Why, then, have I chosen to work in education communications? For me, it is where the pendulum lands perfectly. I am able to use my skills in writing, creative and strategic thinking, and building relationships. I can also continue to work to improve U.S. education for all students, although it is on a more macro scale than teaching.

While teaching in D.C. Public Schools, my students showed me that every child has the ability to learn, with the right support and in the right environment. I think specifically about one of my students who was on a first-grade reading level in the seventh grade. He had a history of behavior problems that I believe stemmed from feeling lost in his classes. At first it was unclear how he was going to do in Spanish class considering he was still learning to read in English. After a few months of taking my Spanish class, though, I remember the school’s vice principal coming in and watching this student raise his hand and answer the warm-up question in front of the whole class. The vice principal was shocked. With positive reinforcements, small-group lessons, and a major confidence boost, my student was on his way to learning a second language.

To some people this might be a small example of a “success story.” For me, it was a moment that I will not forget. It showed me that all students can do more than what they expect from even themselves, but we have to show up for them and hold them to the highest standards.

Despite being out of the classroom now, it is still my students and all students in the U.S. who are the driving force of my day-to-day work and knowing that, ultimately, I am working to improve educational opportunities for them. They are my why.

Elena Acuna
Senior Account Executive