Called to Teach: What Does That Mean?

6712120241_749fa986d8_oA call to teach.. what exactly does it mean? I feel as if I am not going to answer this question with justice. However, I will attempt to answer this question without spending too much time evaluating if my answer is “good enough”.

I believe you do not have to be super religious to understand that some people just “know” they are called to a certain profession. I have had wonderful non-religious/non-spiritual people in my life that were great teachers. I have also had wonderful religious/spiritual people that were also great teachers.

My call to teach is as much of a responsibility as it is a gift. I am not naturally gifted with teaching abilities, but I have to work on my teaching techniques on a daily basis. It is my responsibility to grow in knowledge and ability as I continue on my own journey as a teacher. Earning a PhD taught me that the more I know, the more I realize I still have much more to learn. Just like “ministering” is a never-ending job … “teaching” is a never-ending task as well. I find comfort and satisfaction when my students learn, and I feel discomfort when it doesn’t happen. I find joy in learning new ways to teach, and learning new knowledge to teach.

I have learned the most (as a teacher and a student) from being in an uncomfortable… sometimes even a challenging place. It wasn’t always fun… it wasn’t always pleasant… But I learned and I grew from the experience. Those experiences have shaped me into who I am today. One of the challenging parts of my job is making a safe environment for students to feel that challenge… that uncomfortable place that gives them the “nudge” to learn.

Similar to how eagles teach their young to fly, I view learning as a passaging in life for students to be successful in life and “take flight”. For example, at a certain point the mother eagle will “nudge” its baby out of the nest. Before the baby eagle hits the ground, the mother eagle will fly down and catch them.  They continue to do this until the baby eagle learns to spread its wings and fly. The point is that if we don’t nudge them … they will never be able to become who they were meant to be… or be able to do what they were meant to do.

It is my responsibility … my calling to help students spread their wings. Their future depends on me fulfilling my call to teach. Sometimes, I wish that I got an email, text message, or music playing in my ear every time one of my students catches wind under their wings….. it would make me feel better about pushing them out of the nest so often.

(read more about eagles learning to fly here: http://www.prophetic.net/eagles.htm )

The Miracle of My Life

I never intended to be a teacher.  A doctor maybe.  Or an archeologist.  But never a teacher.

A funny thing happened though in third grade.  I met Mrs. Martinez.  She loved her students.   We loved her back.  And my favorite memory?  On rainy days when we had to stay inside during recess, she’d open her Edgar Allen Poe anthology and read aloud to us.  “The Raven.”  “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Sometimes thunder would rumble at just the right moment, and we’d jump in our seats.  I was enthralled.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Mrs. Martinez was teaching me the magic of story—the power of words.  And she was teaching me how to read—to an audience, to a classroom of students.

Still—in high school, I hung onto my other life plans—practicing medicine in a foreign country or discovering Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat.

But in college, at a place much like etbu, I met professors who would change the direction of my life.  As I sat in their classrooms, I observed men and women who loved God, loved their students, and who lived out their faith in a powerful and meaningful way.  Teaching, for them, was an act of love—an act of worship.  Once again, I was enthralled.  Memories of Mrs. Martinez floated back from the past.

So—plans changed.  I graduated.  I married.  I enrolled in seminary.  I would be a youth minister. I would teach the Bible.  I would change lives.  But in the midst of all this rock-solid certainty, the unexpected crept in.  The marriage began to crumble.  And my dreams slipped through my fingers like sand.  Ashamed, embarrassed and bitter, I dropped out—out of seminary and out of church.   And I stopped believing—in God, in dreams, in love.

But here is a strange thing.

Even though I ran so far from God and lived a life soaked in rebellion— all this time, I was haunted by the memories of the teachers I had in college . . . teachers I admired—teachers who were scholars and brilliant thinkers—teachers who loved Jesus and who exhibited an abundant life that I certainly didn’t have.

And I kept thinking, “You know—Maybe I’m missing something here.  Maybe I should give my faith a second look.  Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing.”

Make no mistake about this.  God used the memory of my teachers to bring me back to Him.  I doubt they remember me, but I still remember them:  Curtis Mitchell – Robert Morosco – Johnny Sailhamer – Clyde Cook – Ed Curtis – Nancy Bundy – Dave Black.

I recall one of my teachers telling us on the first day of class—“You’ll forget most of what I say in this classroom.  But there’s one thing you won’t forget—and that’s my attitude.  My attitude about my discipline—my attitude about you—and my attitude about God.”

And he was right. I still remember Dr. Hunter’s concern for students, his passion for the Bible, and his deep love for the Lord.

I have never forgotten that.

This is the miracle of my life—Even though I gave up on God, God never gave up on me.  And as I grew close to God again—over time—I realized the impact that Christian higher education had on my life.  College didn’t just give me a diploma—it introduced me to a new way of thinking about faith and hope and love through men and women who loved Jesus deeply.

I wanted to be part of that.  So, in 1987, I went back to school.  And I became a teacher.

This is what I tell my students—You never know what God may call you to do—or how He’ll call you to do it.  You have dreams and that’s good.  But be prepared for God to surprise you.  This is what happened to me, I tell them.  I’m not practicing medicine in an exotic land, but, in a way, I’m a physician, of sorts—touching hearts and minds and changing lives. I’m not an archaeologist, but each day I uncover something new and make discoveries that I hope will make the lives of my students richer.

I guarantee you—when I was sitting in Mrs. Martinez’s third grade class—I never thought I’d be standing in front of a classroom one day.  But today, I teach English.  And each class, for me, is recess time on a rainy day. I open a book, and I read to my students.  And I hope that they will experience the magic of story and the power of words.