Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Makes You Come Alive?

“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  

Whether to teach is a question that many education students consider while in college.  I remember a friend of mine who had a job offer from a major accounting firm by the end of the first semester our senior year.  Education students are surrounded by peers who are bright with excitement about jumping off into the world, eager for the opportunities of honor and financial reward that our society has promised them.

Whether to continue teaching is a question all veteran educators ask at some point, often multiple times, and occasionally multiple times within a given day.  Our friends, too, are reaping the material and social benefits of jobs that our society has seen fit to honor more than ours.

This is why I love the quotation above from African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman.  Education is one of the fields in which the practitioners frequently question themselves and their career choice.  Thurman's philosophy shows how best to frame that question.  It is difficult to live by such a high-minded vision as Thurman's, for we must all eat and pay our bills, and the allure of other, more lucrative occupations calls to each of us.  Yet the high-minded road is the only road to take for human beings, who alone are capable of such a perspective.

So ask yourself the question.  Does teaching make you come alive?  This is not asking if every day is a stroll through a sunny park.  We have days when we feel defeated, unsupported, and ineffective, but that is true of any profession.  Does teaching make you come alive?  Are you the best version of yourself when you are in the classroom?  Are you operating in the zone, the sweet spot of your giftedness when you are teaching?  If the answer is yes, then do it.  By all means, do it and stay with it.  The world needs teachers like you.

If, however, the answer is no, then consider doing something else.  You would not want your surgeon to enter the operating room hating her job and doing it merely because the benefits were good and she got to vacation each year in the Bahamas.  Teaching is about life, both giving and receiving it.  It is a two-way interaction between teachers and students.  If what you bring and what you derive from the interaction is not life, no one is well served. 

I was recently interviewed by a writer for Torch: U.S., a publication of the National Junior Classical League, and was asked if I had any advice for aspiring Latin teachers.  I shared Thurman's quotation and added this about Latin students who have become Latin teachers. "They love their subject…no, scratch that…they live their subject.  They embody the Classical ideal and show the world what a life well lived can look like.  This is what makes a great teacher."

What do you live?  Not, what do you love, but what do you live?  What gives you life?  If it is what you teach, then your students are more likely to join and stay with you on that shared journey of discovery that is education.

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