Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What They Become

Hudson's Gold Star Teacher of the Year Nancy Uden
celebrates her selection with students.
A job, career, or vocation? While these words all describe the tasks with which we fill our days and the connotation similar, I would opine the vernacular used to be of great significance. Consider the word 'job': A post of employment. Anything a person is expected or obliged to do. Notice this definition from doesn't mention anything about self-fulfillment or sense of purpose. Certainly I am not naive enough to think that there aren't days when each of us, in any of our chosen fields are merely doing our job--with the promise of the weekend just around the corner! But if we think about about the word 'career', does the definition of that term change how you feel about your work a little bit? A career is defined as 'an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one's lifework'. I certainly think that each of us have careers, right? But how about if we shift the context of how we describe work one more time and instead use the word 'vocation'? Again, same 'type of activity' but the meaning changes just a bit. Often times when considering the term vocation it comes with a theological undertone yet I would suggest that is not a pre-requisite. Nevertheless, vocations are by in large professional occupations requiring specialized training, but now the particular field of work is viewed as a calling, usually in service to others.

Agriculture teacher Dennis Deppe working with the next
generation of farmers.
I have spent a lot of time in the last week reflecting on the differences in this terminology and indeed have come to believe that whether or not you have a job, career, or vocation is in the eye of the beholder. That's right. You get to decide. What do you think about this thing called work? Yes, we all have jobs. We come to work daily and are obligated and bound by certain tasks and actions. We most certainly have careers, if for nothing else the specialized training that it took for each of us to get here. But how about education as a vocation? While not ordained in the ecclesiastical sense, an educator certainly is called into service for others. Service to the students, families, and communities that you serve.

Our teachers toil and labor day after day, week after week, and month after month in service to their pupils. Always preparing them for the future, and in many cases not seeing or realizing the impact of their labor. Then as the years go by sometimes, conceivably wondering, what has become of them? And every once in awhile learning the surprising, or perhaps not so surprising answer to that question.

A happenstance meeting at the grocery store twenty years from now, or the random email from that child who drove you crazy because they couldn't sit still or keep their hands to themselves. They are getting married now and would love to see you at their wedding. The child who is in your classroom right now that looks just like their father, who when a student in your classroom couldn't stop talking about excavators. He now owns a construction company. What about that little girl who was in your kindergarten classroom? She now teaches across the hall from you.

Hopefully you all have had those experiences. If you haven't yet I believe that one day you will. The biggest thrill I have as an educator and former teacher is hearing from my students from so long ago and finding out what they have become. Recently I heard from a former student who, after finishing a successful career as a C-130 navigator in the Air Force is now in major seminary studying to become a Catholic priest. Frankly, with Nick I am not all that surprised he has been called to serve in this way, and my wife Ann and I are looking forward to his ordination. I have shared many stories of former students like Nick with you because of the pride I have in the milestones they reach in their lives. Indeed, I believe in some small way that I may have nurtured them along, recognized a passion, or sparked an interest.

It is not cliche or an overstatement that the future of our American way of life is dependent on the teachers that serve in our public schools. We have doctors, lawyers, construction workers, farmers, teachers, secretaries, politicians, and electricians because of teachers. Could it be the preservation and enlightenment of the Union is counting on the strength of our public school teachers? I think yes. Certainly the payoff isn't now. But it will be a generation or two from now when we learn 'What They Become' in the jobs, careers, and vocations of their choosing. Those students who are now being served by our teachers.

Thank you, teachers, for all your hard work, dedication, and effort this year. I promise, you have made a difference.

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