Passion. Called to the profession. Inspired by another teacher. Making a difference.
Those are the top reasons the book study participants gave today when I asked them to tell their story and frame it within the question of why they got into education. Empathy, chapter 7, in A Whole New Mind contains a portfolio section called Empathize on the Job. In activity #2 How Did I Get Here? Dan Pink writes “Sometimes you work near people for years but have little idea about the path that brought them alongside you.” So today I asked. We, at the request of the group, modified the activity and had each person tell his/her own story to the whole group. I took notes on one side of a notecard and listened for themes in each person’s story. The dominant ones are at the top of this post. The word passion came out of every story directly, simply, plainly, and unflinchingly. This, from a group that ranges in experience from only a few years to 20+.
I wasn’t surprised about passion, being influenced by another teacher, or making a difference. Those seem to be very common bonds among educators. The other, called to the profession, surprised me a little. Many in the room spoke about being called to the profession, having it in their blood, or simply knowing from an early age they were supposed to be in education. More than one took a circuitous path, some resisting, but we all ended up here. It seems to be somewhat anachronistic, especially in today’s postmodern technological realm, to respond to a call.
This identification of purpose or meaning (Chapter 9) resonates and grounds people, making them unshakable stalwarts. Passion permeates what they do, who they are. Not all educators reside here, but the ones who do simply radiate and attract kids (and adults) to themselves. It’s not out of ego or grandiosity; it’s their quality. The same thing happens when the sunrise stops us or a piece of poetry gives us pause. We cannot really quantify it, but we can see its results. Kids, other staff, parents, even you know who these people are.
The ones who answer their calling are not limited to education, but few other vocations so poignantly intertwine people and purpose, message and meaning, wisdom and wonder. Can we teach kids to answer a call regardless of vocation? I’m not sure, but we can prepare them to be ready, receptive, and reflective. The purpose of education starts there.
The rather lengthy educational biography has a point…
I’ve spent almost all of my life in the formalized world of American education. I entered education, like many people, around age 5. I have very few memories of my early years in school. In fact I don’t remember much before 6th grade. I’m not sure why, but I have very few contextual experiences which jog my mind for those early years. My family moved around quite a bit and the four consecutive years of high school were the longest stretch I ever attended in one school -so I’ve been told.
For kindergarten through 1st semester of my 8th grade year, I went to public schools. Second semester of my 8th grade year I went to a parochial Catholic school. I hated the change in the middle of the school year, but my dad wanted me to go to a “good” school and this particular parochial school fed into one of Columbus, Ohio’s best high schools, Bishop Watterson High School. The school’s profile reads that it is a “comprehensive, co-educational, Catholic school for grades 9-12…A large majority of parents are college educated, business and professional people…The curriculum is largely college preparatory. More than 98% of graduates enter four-year or two year colleges and universities.” The Student Handbook dives deeper into the school’s philosophy, beliefs, and mission. Although I, at first, I reluctantly attended Watterson, I grew to like it. I was challenged -sometimes too much, I thought, and I found places to connect like the theater. I wasn’t a stellar student, but I wasn’t average or below. The further I got from Watterson, the better I remembered it.
I went on to Colorado State University (CSU) and earned my Bachelor’s in English and completed my coursework secondary teaching license there. Again, I wasn’t a stellar student and was only below average for the first year or two. I eventually made it to the Dean’s list my last few semesters, but that was when the courses got really interesting and engaging. Most of the teachers I had now have a * next to their name indicating emeritus status. I wouldn’t consider myself old, but that doesn’t help. I can’t recall any of the names of my education teachers and when I look over the faculty pages, no one rings a bell. I completed my student teaching at a high school in Fort Collins, CO where CSU is located.
After graduating from CSU, I began teaching at a high school in northern El Paso County, Colorado. I began as an English teacher and through a series of improbable events ended up teaching technology classes as well as coaching basketball -neither of which I had done before in any meaningful capacity. During that time I went to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) for my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Computing and Technology. They call it Instructional Technology now. That degree and the work I had done teaching allowed me to become the school’s technology coordinator and later the database administrator for the district.
Later, I completed the coursework for my principal’s license from the University of Denver and moved into the assistant principalship at two different high schools also in El Paso County, but in two different districts. Now I’m working on the development and implementation of digital/online high school for my district and that’s where my frame of reference comes into play.
I consider myself a lifelong learner and have even explained my moving about in education as a restless desire to improve. I used to mean improvement for myself, but now I reference it in the larger frame of education. I know education can be better. I have hope that we, as a global community, can effect the changes that our kids need. But…it’s our (my) frame of reference that keeps getting in the way. The path that I took to get here is not all that unusual in terms of the schooling progression. Each step, however, contributed to my frame of reference and reinforced the historical traditions that informed (and continues to inform) it. My frame is common, not in a pedantic way, but in a shared experience way. It worked for me so it must work for my (our) kid(s) now, right?
If you’ve read any of the other entries here, you know that’s not what I think. Einstein has been attributed to say “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That means we have to step outside our frame of reference. When I look at my frame of reference I see the fingerprints of traditional educational history all over it. We live in a very different, accelerated, connected, dynamic, (fill in your own flat-world adjective) time in history when our traditional frames can’t stand up to the expectations of the future. It’s that tension that scares the wits out of most people who have connections of any sort to the educational community.
To drop another name, George Washington is reported to have said “One of the difficulties in bringing about change in an organization is that you must do so through the persons who have been most successful in that organization, no matter how faulty the system or organization is. To such persons, you see, it is the best of all possible organizations, because look who was selected by it and look who succeeded most in it. Yet these are the very people through whom we must bring about improvements.” We all have had some measure of success and many of us (educators, parents, community members, policy makers, etc.) succeeded most, but that doesn’t mean our kids will if we do nothing to alter our current trajectory.