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

One response

  1. Well-said. What a significant contribution to the celebratory evening.
    Thank you, Matthew. So glad you are our colleague and fellow-servant.

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