When I was a young kid in Ohio, I stuttered badly. So badly that my psychologist uncle finally performed an informal evaluation.

His diagnosis: As soon as I realized he was going to play with me, only me, that I didn't have to compete with my older siblings for his attention, my stuttering stopped.

I suppose, then, it's no surprise that I joined the theater in high school and college.

Indeed, there's an adage in drama circles about the three prerequisites for being a good actor: Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!

The joke still makes me laugh -- uncomfortably.

You see, even though I've left the stage long behind, I still manage to make myself the center of attention all too often. Why else would I tell so many long jokes? Why else have I written this column for 16 years?

(You're all reading me now, aren't you? Oh, good.)

Is that why I'm a teacher? Is the classroom my stage? How many times a day do I say, "All eyes on me!" Hmmm. Dare I question my real motivations for being a teacher?

There's my altruism, of course: a sincere desire to help others, to make a difference in my students' lives and my nation's culture.

Then, there's my love of reading great literature, writing cathartic stories, uncovering intriguing history; and of inspiring my students to love them, too.

My experience as an actor has served me well, sometimes enabling me to briefly captivate children addicted to television and video games.

Nonetheless (and don't tell anyone this!), I do crave the limelight of my students' attention. I thrive amid my captive audience.

Similarly, no one in the Ellison clan has ever been able to work well for a boss.

We inherited this from my father, who started then managed two businesses simultaneously. Like him, my siblings and I all need to call the shots.

Well (Shhh! This is another secret), being an educator provides amazing independence.

The truth is, my classroom is my kingdom. I establish order, set the tone, decide what goes where, what I'll teach, when and how. I'm a benevolent dictator.

Yes, administrators periodically check up on me; but any teacher worth his salt knows how to give administrators what they want while still doing what he believes to be best.

So, perhaps I'm a teacher because I need to feel in control. The world may be going to hell in a hand basket; but in my classroom, I can create an orderly, manageable safe haven.

That's a good thing, isn't it? Hmmm again.

There certainly are many reasons I've taught for 27 years, not all of them completely noble. Some I may never recognize or understand. It's all very complicated, mysterious.

Who really knows why any of us does anything?

I'm proud that, over the years, I've gradually learned to sit down, shut up, and let go. After all, a great teacher is not an actor but a director; the classroom ought to be a stage for my students, not for me.

I'm at my best when I say, "Look at them! Look at them! Look at them!"

Teaching has been perfect for me, a mystical profession where my virtues are vices and vice versa; where I walk into my classroom every morning and know I'm in the right place, even though I don't really understand why.

"Good morning, kids," I say. "Look at me." And I don't stutter at all.

David Ellison teaches fourth grade at Kitayama Elementary School in Union City. The Fremont resident's column appears on alternate Mondays on the Local page. Contact him via his blog, ateachersmarks.com.