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 )

What’s Your Hurry?

I watched him in my side view mirror. He walked toward me, his motorcycle’s lights still flashing blue and red. I rolled down my car window and waited.

“What’s your hurry?” he asked.

The strange thing was—I wasn’t even in a hurry.

And the stranger thing?  I’m 57 years old and I’ve never been pulled over and given a ticket.

But, on this morning, I didn’t just get caught speeding, I got caught speeding in a school zone.

I can give you all kinds of excuses. I was driving on a street I never travel. This particular street runs along the back of the school which sits down low with a chain link fence that separates the school yard from the street. There was no cross walk. There were no flashing yellow lights. And the school zone sign was small and partially covered by the branches of a big oak tree. (I have pictures to prove this).

Nevertheless . . . Despite all of my excuses, there was still a speed limit and a school zone sign, and I was going way too fast for both.

My wife couldn’t believe it when I told her I got a ticket. And she really couldn’t believe it when I told her my speed.

I’ve thought about this a lot. In fact, that first night, I didn’t sleep. The second night I worried about going to jail. (I can be a bit dramatic sometimes).

It wasn’t so much my speed that concerned me. It was the fact that I had missed the warning signs along the side of the road. I was so distracted—so preoccupied.

As I mentioned last week, I live my life with a sense of urgency. I want to make the moments of my life count. But, there have to be times I slow down, despite all the distractions life throws my way.  And this creates tension.

But slowing down isn’t just an ideal to strive for—it’s something God wants for us. When the psalmist tells us in Psalm 46:8 to “come, behold the works of the Lord,” the question arises, how do we do that? The answer is in verse 10—“Cease striving and know that I am God.” How do we come to see the works of the Lord? How do we know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (46:1)? We cease striving. We become still.  We have to slow down.

I think the curse of our age is busyness. We’re too busy to notice the people around us. Too busy to stop and talk. Too busy to invest in their lives. We’ve got things to do and places to go.

And the clock never stops ticking—its hands never stop moving.  And each day marches relentlessly into the next.

Urgency.

Without a doubt, God wants me to bear fruit—to work hard. But He also desires that I take time to be still—to consider His truth and His will and His majesty. I teach to reveal God’s truth. But how will I convey God’s truth unless I reach deep into scripture and allow God to speak to me?

Here’s what I’m learning.  I can live with a sense of urgency, without blowing by the warning signs.  I can live with a sense of urgency that drives me deep into relationships and not right past them.

Here’s a sobering thought—

Only two things will last forever—people and the Word of God.

So, it would make sense that I invest my time wisely getting to know both.

I walk this fine line—living with a sense of urgency and living with a clear sense of purpose.

Jesus is a good model.  His calendar was full—He was a man on the move.  But no matter what He was doing or where He was going, He always had time for people.  And He always made time for prayer.

I am amazed by this—the Son of God carved out time to pray—to be still.

So when a student drops by my office unannounced or stops me on campus while I’m trying to outrun the hands on my watch, I pray that I drop what I’m doing, stop where I’m going, and make an investment in their life.

After all, what’s my hurry?

That Sense of Urgency

I’m a cancer survivor.  My doctors still shake their heads in amazement.  I’m not supposed to be here.  But God had other plans—and in October, my wife, Sharon, and I will celebrate six years of remission.   

Having cancer changed how I look at life.  It left me with a sense of urgency.  It even changed what I did for a living. 

For some time, I’d been pursuing a career in college administration.  But sitting in a chemo infusion room every three weeks for a year prompted me to reflect on a lot of things—including my career.  And after some long talks with Sharon and my oncologist, I retired from administration so I could return to the classroom.  God made me a teacher.  It’s what I love.     

I’d forgotten, though, the peaks and valleys of teaching.  I had forgotten that the classroom is both exhilarating and discouraging.  I had forgotten what a roller coaster ride it can be. 

Some of my students dread my required classes.  They fear not only failing my class, but also failing themselves and all those who believe in them.  For other students, my classes are merely an unwelcome obstacle standing in the way of their diploma.  And I’d forgotten that some students, even the better ones, don’t always read the assignments.  A colleague from another university says, “You can assign all you want, they aren’t going to read it.”

I recall the first time I was faced with a significant instance of student apathy that resulted in several F’s (a long time ago when I was a graduate teaching assistant).  I sat in my mentor’s office with my head down, feeling like a failure.  “Did you really think you could save them all?” he asked.  “Yes,” I said.

The truth is, I still hope to inspire all of my students.  But, realistically, I know that there are some I won’t connect with.  I recall an honors class (not this semester!) when a student came with a drop slip.  I was surprised because she was such an excellent student, and I loved having her in the class.  When I asked her why she was dropping, she said, “I don’t like the class—It’s just not working for me.”

I also know that there are students who will fall away and who will fail.  But I am still hopeful and I truly believe that, more often than not, students are looking for an excuse to succeed—they are looking for someone to inspire them. 

I think my expectations are probably more realistic now.  But they’re still high.  For me.  For my students. 

And I hope my sense of urgency rubs off on them. 

When you live on this side of cancer, there’s so much more at stake it seems.  Life is fragile.  Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.  And I have my students for a semester—just 15 weeks.  A mist. A vapor. So much like life.  What will they take away from this experience, I wonder—intellectually and spiritually?     

In a mere 15 weeks, how can I teach them to write skillfully and read diligently and think critically?  How can I reveal to them that the discipline of faith and the discipline of learning and scholarship intersect in a profound and rational way?  And how can I model for them a life built on Jesus and His love and grace? So little time.

My wife and I pray and trust that my remission is permanent—that the cancer never returns.  But I still look behind me—over my shoulder.  And sometimes I think I can hear it—walking fast, with a purpose, coming to overtake me.  That urgency is never far from me. 

And so I teach.  And I invest in the lives of my students.  And I pray that something sticks along the way.  Even if it is just my attitude—my love for Jesus, my love for my discipline, my love for students, and my conviction that one class can make a difference. 

15 weeks—just a vapor.  But this reality forces me to live in the present—to treasure each day—each class with my students. 

So I live with a sense of urgency—in all areas of my life—as a believer and husband and teacher.  

I know God still does miracles.  He is doing one in my life.  I pray He does one in my classroom. 

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine...” (Ephesians 3:20a).