Teaching: Do I love it, am I good at it and is it worthwhile?

Below is a speech given by Dr. Matthew Etherington, Associate Professor TWU School of Education.  This speech was given at the 2013 B.Ed. Graduation.
“Teaching: Do I love it, am I good at it and is it worthwhile?”

Greetings: Good afternoon. First of all let me say well done to the graduating PYP class of 2013; and of course a warm welcome to family and friends—all those who shared the trials, traumas and successes in earning this degree today.  It is an honour to be giving the faculty reflection address. I am fully aware that anyone who accepts such an invitation as this has a delicate task to perform.
His/her first duty, of course, is to congratulate you. It is my sincere prayer and hope that you will find in your personal and professional lives a source of great joy and happiness.  The second duty is to give a reflection, so here goes.
Well you made it! You made it through many, many classes. In the School of Education some of these were Dr Franklin’s assessment class, Dr Pudlas’ educational psychology class, Dr Jule’s social issues in education class, Dr Van Brummelen’s Critical Issues in Education and Culture class, Etherington’s classroom management class, and the PYP classes and practica with Luella, Lisa, John, Bruce and Bruce and of course your wonderful school associates. You did it, you made it.  As of today you officially become part of the teaching and education world at a time when there are, as always, serious challenges. Never in our history has there been a greater need for wise, courageous and enlightened leadership than at present. It is to you, young men and women, that we must look to for that leadership. May God speed you.  You would never have accomplished what you have today unless you actually believed that you were good at it, that it was worthwhile and that you loved it.  So this is what I am going to reflect on in the next few minutes – Graduating as a Teacher in 2013—Do you Love it, Are you Good at it and Is it Worthwhile?  These are the three questions we might continually ask ourselves as teachers: beginning or experienced.
So teaching, do you love it? Remember that teaching is an act of love. We know that throughout history when people study great teachers… there is consensus that the learning that takes place is much more driven from their caring and heart work than from their teaching style or lesson plan.  So what might we mean when we say that we love to teach? You could mean that you enjoy the act of teaching, or that you cherish those whom you teach or you could mean you are encouraged when you see learning take place and you were the cause. And so many have said that one criterion for having chosen a career in teaching is because you – teachers – love it!  In the Canadian home design reality TV series Love It or List It, either you love it or you sell it and rid your hands of it. Clearly if you don’t love what you have or do, you are less invested.
So If I might suggest that you should love what you now will officially do as a teacher. But to love it might also mean that you always have high hopes. All great teachers hold up a model of hope for their students to emulate.  I remember in conversation one day whilst shopping for groceries I happened to mention to someone I hadn’t seen for a very long time that I was indeed a grade one teacher.  The first reply was “oh that must be such a relaxing career, just playing all day alongside the children” – I smiled, but then this person continued: “Ahh young children, they said, the last of the great believers”- I smiled once more.  Great teachers, I think, should also be the last of great believers. Never allow any disappointments or challenges in teaching or life to cause you to lose hope. Don’t ever lose hope because hope makes us free to accept, even laugh at the barbed wire in our lives and to discover that strangely we can be happy even in our suffering, we can rise above the present. I will not give up on me or you. Such high hopes of course come at the cost of our calling. Indeed, as you know, to have become a teacher and to be a teacher costs time, energy and money. Your vocation will demand as much time as needed to complete a preparation for a meeting or lesson, to grade papers, to counsel your students, to pray for grace in meeting parents.
Teaching requires time and energy. And there is a price to pay for the privilege of being a teacher, and only a sense of hope and calling can justify that price.  So do not think that to love teaching means to master or conquer it. You or I will never master teaching. No one does. Love it because you are involved in acts of hope, giving, receiving, empathy and sympathy every single day.  So stand in a right relationship with these things. Loving teaching requires an attending and a focusing, in which the intention is not to see things through my eyes but to listen to things speak and to seek to hear their voices.
Okay well I love it but am I good at it? I am reminded of one parent who made the following observation regarding the end of summer, her three children and the teacher:  Isn’t it wonderful the mother said? Summer is over—and my children are finally going back to someone who can handle them. Obviously we are expected to be good at being a teacher. Are you good at it? CS Lewis discussed what it truly means to be a good teacher. To educate is to enable young people to become the type of people who contributes both to their happiness, that is, human flourishing, and to the happiness of the society they live in.  Ultimately being a good teacher might also lead to a life of leisure— but wait—let me qualify that— teaching leads to a life of thoughtful contemplation and introspection, and not just a career—The examined life.  Now this means that although you are a good teacher life’s true purpose cannot be actualized within a teaching career. In fact this is just as it should be.  For example, only animals are exclusively focused on their vocation. They are extremely good at what they do, they are the perfect working professionals. They would, if they could speak, only talk shop to one another. Lions cannot stop hunting, nor the beaver building dams, nor the bee making honey.  Being good at what you do as a teacher is important, and you have demonstrated that already. But being good also requires a love of learning to free you to pursue a life of reflection that enables you to come to a knowledge of what is true in the world and what is not.  A good teacher seeks truth.
Okay I love teaching and I am good at it but is it worthwhile? As I prepared this talk I was reminded of a study that was conducted many years ago by a sociologist who asked one hundred people over the age of 95 one single question: If you could live your life over again, he asked, what, if anything, would you do different? After three months of meetings and discussions, these 100 people over the age of 95 agreed with three things they would do different.  The three things, in order, they would do if they could live their life over again would be to (1) risk more (2) reflect more, and finally (3) they would establish more long-term things that would last on.  If we applied these three things as a measure to a worthwhile career, then yes teaching is worthwhile. You do these three things everyday as a teacher— risking, reflecting and establishing long-lasting life time memories with your students.

Teaching is worth loving, worth becoming good at and it is always worthwhile!

Great Expectations

It’s time to say, “Good-bye but we will see you again.”

Your PYP year at Trinity has come to an end.

You’ve made more cherished memories

And many more new friends.

You’ve watched yourself AND PEERS learn and grow

And change from day to day.

I know that all the long nights,

the lesson plans you’ve developed and taught—

have meaning in both present and eternal ways.

So it’s with joyful memories, love and prayers

We send you out to soar

With great hope and expectations

For what next year holds in store.

Thank you all for allowing each and every one of us to walk with you in your journey to teach.
God bless the graduating K -12 teachers of 2013.

Dr. Etherington

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Our God is with us

It is graduation week and my thoughts are with our graduates – those that we have had the privilege of caring for as faculty over the past 4 or 5 years.  On Friday and Saturday we will celebrate their accomplishments.  We will applaud them for their successful completion of a very challenging and comprehensive program.  We will become part of photographic moments with family and friends.  We will pray for every blessing on their future paths.  We will acknowledge that they are now our colleagues and not our students.   These times are bittersweet.  We know our graduates are ready and already outgrowing us, but we also know the complexity and challenges that lie ahead in the world where they will offer themselves as teachers.  We know they have learned enough to be outstanding beginning teachers, but in many ways their learning is just beginning and we have to absolutely trust that they will continue to learn – that they will continue to care deeply about their students as whole persons, that they will continue to pay attention in a way that calls those students into being, that they will continue to care about the most important and meaningful questions in life and learning, that they will find places to nurture life in whatever dehumanizing system they find themselves in (and all systems can be dehumanizing), that they will continue to reach out to those who are further along on the journey of becoming teachers, that they will stay open and wondering, joyful and hopeful.

How will it be possible for them to do these things without us there to encourage them, help them, teach them? We probably think too highly of ourselves, but it really is like Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte’s Web seeing the spiderlings transported and separated by the wind to destinations unknown and beyond their control.  Their teaching selves are so fragile and they are still so young.  So we send them off with smiles and tears.  We can’t help it.

The good news is that it is also NOT like Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte’s Web.  We know that we have given our graduates more than practical training, more than sound educational theory, more than professional attitudes and dispositions.  We’ve given them what gives us life.  We’ve given them the hope that our God is with them no matter where they find themselves as teachers.  He is everywhere present and fills all things, the treasury of good things and the giver of life.  We’ve reminded them to pay attention to the good, the beautiful and the true because God is there.  We’ve told them that there are dangers in ideals that become idols and over-simplistic answers to complex questions.  We’ve encouraged them (by word and deed) to be present with their students, in the messy and unplanned moment, open to the unexpected, open to the still small voice of wisdom that speaks to prayerful hearts.  We’ve shared the joy and hope we find in teaching, knowing that they can find the same joys and hopes.  We’ve shown them that teaching, turning souls, is a vocation – God gifted work – work that is always too big for us, work that requires grace and a continual turning towards the light.

And so we can say good-bye with smiles and tears and gratefulness.  Our God is with us.

 

 

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