Education/Teaching: This Profession Isn’t Just a Paycheck, It’s a Purpose.

I had a rather nontraditional start to my career as an educator.  I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Broadcasting.  After graduation, I got a job in a public relations/marketing/advertising agency downtown.  I was so excited to start my post-college life.  I saw myself living downtown and making a living in the business world.  I felt confident that I had a job and that I would soon be making enough money to leave the nest and start my own life.

However, it now occurs to me, I never really thought about my purpose.  I do have to give myself a little credit.  I was only 22.  Finding a purpose in life takes some people their entire lives.  At the age of 22, purpose wasn’t something I was thinking about.  In fact, I hadn’t really thought about my purpose at any point in my life.

Anyways, I started my job interning as an account manager for this PR agency.  The hustle and bustle of the commute and the first day felt exciting.  I was “adulting” and it was kind of cool!  Fast forward about three weeks…  After some time making the commute in the rat race and working in the agency, I began losing interest.  It didn’t feel fun anymore.  I started dreading going to work.  There was nothing invigorating about sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen, writing emails, and making cold calls all day (of course, not all PR agencies are like this.  However, this was my experience).

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was missing something extremely important.  I was not fulfilling my purpose.  I had no conviction.  I had no passion.  I felt like an easily replaceable cog, just spinning and spinning as the days went by.  I had daydream nightmares of myself getting old still doing the same thing, day in and day out, staring at a computer screen, writing emails, and making cold calls.

The day came for my internship to end, and I was not offered a full-time position in the agency.  This may sound strange, but I felt a small (very small) sense of failure because I was not hired on full-time, but I also felt an extreme sense of relief.  After that internship, I was fairly certain that I wanted nothing to do with the business world, or at least a company that made me feel irrelevant and easily replaceable.  Some may say I didn’t give the business world enough time and should have stuck it out because not all businesses or agencies are like the one in which I worked.  I know that.  Yet, I’m extremely thankful I didn’t stick around.

My mom was a principal around the time that my internship ended.  She told me that I should look into substitute teaching to make some money while I was job searching.  I did.  AND I LOVED IT!  Who loves substitute teaching?  Subbing is notoriously difficult.  Students don’t always treat subs well.  The pay isn’t that good.  I had no insurance/benefits.  I didn’t know much about education at the time so I occasionally felt unprepared.  But, I began to notice something.  I noticed something about myself as I began interacting with students and the school/district community.  I was happy.  I felt a connection with education and with all my students and their families.  I began to feel a sense of purpose.  Because of the connections I was making with students and the school community, I felt like I was making an impact.  My students, (which weren’t really mine at the time because I was only subbing, but still), really helped cultivate this purpose in me.  I began to feel a strong sense of conviction.  I needed to become a teacher in order to help positively change the lives of my students!  So, that’s what I did.

I’m writing this post because I’m currently interviewing candidates for multiple teaching positions in my building for the 2017-2018 school year.  There are hundreds of books on interviewing.  These books delineate types of questions to ask potential candidates.  They highlight nonverbal cues to look for while interviewing candidates.  However, none of the books touch on purpose, or at least they don’t go into depth about it.  One of the things I’m looking for in candidates (among the plethora of other criteria I look for in good teaching candidates) is PURPOSE.  I wish I could define this better (so then I could write that book, lol).  Sometimes, I even wish that purpose was more quantifiable.  I’ve hired teachers in the past who were/are very passionate, and I think this is an aspect of purpose.  Yet, I don’t think it’s the same thing.  It’s hard to describe.  But, as a leader making hiring decisions, sometimes, you just know when someone has/knows his or her purpose.  It comes through in all of their answers and their questions.  It comes through as they describe their day-to-day responsibilities interacting with children.  It becomes apparent when candidates talk about the time they spend with their school communities.  At the end of the day, I’m looking to hire teaching candidates who view this job as their purpose, not just a paycheck.


When I Grow Up, I Want To Be…

Professional Football Player
Professional Soccer Player (“like Cristiano Ronaldo”)
Professional Video Gamer
Professional Youtuber (I wasn’t fully aware this was a thing)
Voice Actor
Growing up, I wanted to be an archaeologist, professional baseball player, professional golfer (which is ironic because I’m a terrible golfer), or a rock star.  It was so fun to have these dreams.  I’d picture myself hitting a grand slam to win the game as a professional baseball player.  I’d have daydreams of myself on stage rocking out with my guitar.  However, I was also encouraged (by my parents and teachers) to have more realistic dreams in addition to my utmost desire to be the next Eddie Van Halen.  For instance, after visiting Springfield as a junior high student, I became enthralled with politics.  I was encouraged to consider a career as a lawyer and then to enter politics.  Looking back, I’m so happy that I was encouraged to have a “Plan B Dream” in addition to my ultimate dreams.
At this point in the school year, I get to go out to all the schools within my district in order to learn more about our 6th grade students.  I get to interview 6th graders, which affords me the opportunity to get to know them so much better.  These students are amazing.  They’re smart.  They’re funny.  They’re shy.  They’re nervous.  They’re kind.  They’re caring.  Some are quiet.  Some are more talkative.  Some really like video games.  Some really like animals.  Some really like the Chicago Bulls.  But, most importantly, they’re all 6th grade kids with wide eyes and incredible dreams.  Many times, those dreams consist being a professional singer, an actor in Hollywood, a reality TV star, or a football player for the New England Patriots, just to name a few.  I’v heard students say they wanted to be every single one of those things in the list at the beginning of this post, and then some.
As educators (and parents as well), I think it’s important to embrace our students and their dreams, and to also encourage our students to have “Plan B Dreams” in addition to their ultimate dreams.  These “Plan B Dreams” tend to be a bit more realistic or like “regular jobs” as one student described.  That’s not a bad thing.  Having a backup plan is important (I may be biased because I’m a habitual planner).  Some people take issue with the phrase “Plan B Dreams” because they claim it implies that we’re discouraging students from pursuing their real dreams or that we’re “dream killers.”  If you don’t want to call it “Plan B Dreams,” fine.  Don’t.  These “regular job” dreams can go by another name.  However, I think it’s essential that kids are encouraged to have these “regular job” dreams.  Being real about future careers and opportunities is so important.  What is more, I think it’s important to help students and their parents research future jobs and understand their skills and potential.  As I got older (high school), I remember taking aptitude tests or skills tests that would help identify careers that would be a good fit for me.  The results of these tests were always so narrow.  The results almost always had to do with a public service position like a law enforcement officer or a teacher (nothing wrong with either of those professions).  That being said, it’s our job as educators to show kids and their families that there are so many other opportunities out there in this world, in addition to their ultimate dream jobs/careers and in addition to the jobs/careers that may be identified for them based on the results of some test.
We’re not dream killers.  We’re not crushing the dreams of our students.  Encouraging students to have realistic dreams in addition to their ultimate dreams is not killing their dreams or discouraging them from pursuing their ultimate dreams.  We just want to ensure that the children within our care (whether our own kids or the students in our charge) have a variety of dream jobs/careers and “Plan B Dream” jobs/careers, have the knowledge and ability to one day pursue their dreams, and understand that just because their ultimate dream job/career may not have come to fruition, that doesn’t mean they’re not or they won’t be successful in life.