I came across this infographic in one of my social media feeds the other day and immediately saved it. I tried to locate the original source by doing a reverse image Google search, but it looks like the image has been copied/pasted around so much on the great and wonderful world wide web that locating the source is beyond my Googling prowess. So if, by some small chance, the creator is reading this, thank you.
The infographic got me thinking about Purpose with a capital P. And it reminded me of a question I ask students, the same question to bookend the school year.
Ask me anything.
On the first day of school, I ask students to ask me any question they have. They write these on index cards, anonymously, and turn them in. Typically, questions focus on the curriculum—How much homework will we have? Are there a lot of tests? What are we reading? Or they have to do with my qualifications—How long have you been teaching? Where did you go to school? What can you teach me? (okay, they don’t ask that one, but it’s on their faces).
One year, a student asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?” It’s an interesting question. Interesting because it assumes that teaching couldn’t possibly be something you’d want to do if you “could do anything.”
I guess his question shouldn’t surprise me. It’s rare to hear a high schooler say he wants to be a teacher when he grows up. Usually, it’s a doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur, financier, judge, or just I-have-no-idea. Sometimes a student will want to be an elementary school teacher, but high school? No way.
Of course, their response makes sense. Doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur—these occupations feel aspirational. Students just
survived spent the last four years in high school; they can’t imagine choosing a career that would put them back there.
And with the current climate teachers—particularly public school teachers—face (exhibit A: Governor Cuomo), it’s not hard to see why fewer and fewer young people choose to become teachers (exhibit B: NPR investigation). Teaching has never been an easy job, but it’s also never been this hard (exhibit C: Nancie Atwell’s recent comments).
So when I’m asked what I would do if I “could do anything”? The answer still and always: teach.
At the end of the school year, I revisit my “ask me anything” question. This time, though, students are comfortable enough to just raise their hands and ask away. And this time, the questions are often personal in nature. “So long as I can’t get fired for answering,” I joke with them, “I’ll try to answer as truthfully as I can.” Questions include things like “How did your husband propose?” and “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” (I remind them about not getting fired).
Invariably, a student asks a question along the lines of: “If you could give us just one piece of advice, what would it be?”
My answer is always the same, and it’s related to why I decided to be a teacher. I tell students, “Do something with your life that you love,” “Follow your passion,” and “Money’s not the most important thing.” But more than anything, I implore them to do something that makes a positive impact on others. “That is how our lives have meaning,” I
I remind students that they are fortunate to go to one of the best schools in the state, perhaps the country, and that they will go off to great and wonderful colleges, world-class universities. They will be among the most highly educated people in the world. And they know this.
“What will you do with all that education?” I ask, turning the question back on them.
Education is a privilege, yes, but it is also a responsibility. When the time comes to make a decision about what you could do with your life if you “could do anything,” remember that. Think not of a job, but think of a vocation. What does the world need that I can do well? How can I contribute?
I am under no delusions about the impact I may or may not make on a daily basis. One of my biggest pet peeves are those feel good teacher movies (I’m looking at you, Mr. Holland). I hear all the time that “teachers can change lives” and not to “judge a day by the harvest but by the seed you plant.” (This second mantra is on a poster in the women’s faculty room in my school. I kid you not). The daily grind of teaching quickly eliminated any delusions of grandeur I may have ever had about my profession.
And yet when I look at the infographic above, I can’t help say to myself: Yes.
Teaching is the intersection of all these things: passion, mission, profession, and vocation. This is what I do. This is what I love, what I get paid to do, and what I’m good at. Not quite great (yet).
And of course, the world needs always needs good-working-towards-great teachers. Always.
This is the final post for this month’s Slice of Life challenge. Honestly, I’m shocked I made it without missing a single day. I’ve tried daily photography challenges in the past and have failed. Spectacularly. Yet somehow I managed to find time to write every single day for the last month.
But like I say to my students who say they never have time to read—we make time for the things we love.
And while I don’t necessarily love writing—I have trouble calling myself a “writer”—I do love teaching. Most of my posts this month have centered on my teaching life. I’ve shared writing prompts from class. I’ve struggled with how to find the time to create independent, lifelong readers. I’ve reminisced about the influential teachers in my life. I’ve wondered at the possibilities of social media. I’ve questioned whether or not I should opt my children out of their state tests. I’ve reflected on the books I’m reading, personal and professional.
So when I find myself surprised that I was able to make it through 31 days straight of daily blogging, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.
You make time for the things you love.
And sometimes, serendipitously, those things are also the ones that give you a Purpose, with a capital P.
Finally, thank you to the coordinators at TwoWritingTeachers for this opportunity. You may be seeing me on Tuesdays (you don’t know what you’ve done!).
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.