George Lucas Educational Foundation Celebrating our 25th Anniversary!

Find Your Purpose as an Educator

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Do you feel like you have been put through the ringer these last few years?

I have talked to teachers from across the country a lot lately and here’s what I have heard:

“I’m tired of feeling like a political punching bag.”

“Each new initiative is just like the old one, just with different labels. A thesis is now a claim. A supporting detail is now text-based evidence. What difference does it make what we call it, it only matters if students can do it.”

“Good teaching does not change, so why are they trying to repackage and dress up the same thing every 5 years?”

“They tell us not to teach to the test, yet it seems the only thing that matters to them is how my students do on test.”

It is understandable to feel the negativity in the the atmosphere weighing you do. It gets to us all at times, I imagine. But we must find ways to rise about this moment and find greater principles that can withstand the turbulence -- ones that can sustain us through difficult times.

Here are three ways to find your purpose and develop a deeper love for what you do:

1. Develop a mantra to repeat each day

I started saying three things aloud a month ago. It is the most reassuring thing I do each day. Before students enter my classroom and I have the space and all its quietness to myself in the early hours of the morning, I say:

“I am here to inspire students.

I am here to be a great father and husband.

I am here to help others succeed.”

Repeating it each day, has enabled me to look past the short-term and feel that I am being guided by something more powerful than an educational fad. I have principles that can navigate me the roughest of seas.

2. Spread the Love

Sean McComb, the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, has created a means for us all to “be a voice for the hope, promise and possibilities that come alive in the classroom.” He, and other state teachers of the year, have created ‪#‎LoveTeaching, a platform to celebrate and unite what we love about the profession. It aims to “share why we teach, why we choose to stay in schools and live out this vocation and give a glimpse of the beautiful spectrum of possibilities that teaching offers.”

Take the time to share your story and write about what you love. While work may be what we do for a paycheck, a calling is what we do when the love outweighs the money. Share your calling.

3. Find That Someone

Good mentors teach us what they know, sharing their skills and expertise, but great ones offer a vision of who we can be and give us the confidence to get there. They enable us to see past the short-term frustrations and feelings of despair. They listen to what we say and articulate the deeper truths of what we are unable to verbalize.

They are not easy to find but they do exist. Your great mentor might reside in your school, your district, or perhaps somewhere in the digital landscape. It takes some time because you have to gauge how well that person listens, has compassion, and displays the wisdom to offer a vision of what you can be, but once you find that person, you will have a deeper love for what you do and your career will have greater purpose.


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Great advice Brian. For me that someone has been finding my professional spouse. While I team teach with this person who can complete my sentences, more importantly he challenges me, questions me, and calls me out when necessary. He helps me be my best self professionally and personally.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I was just telling someone today that I have never had so much fun in my classroom -- oh, all the magic of technology! -- yet felt so unhappy about my job when I am NOT in my classroom. It's an interesting time, that's for sure. I don't really have a mantra at this point, but I do know that when I'm working with my 8th graders, life is grand. And that's what I have to remember and keep central. When I work for those kids, it's all worth it. They are the reason I do what I do. No one else matters.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Love your post Brian, it is inspiring for us to find a mentor. Mentors are a source of inspiration, motivation and learning. They push our thinking and make us feel that we're not teaching alone. The first 2 years of teaching I wouldn't be the same teacher had it not been for my mentor. When you see and talk to him you might think he's the most pessimistic teacher that needs to retire, but deep inside he cared, and he gave me such great advice that got me through my first few semesters. Truly helped shape me as an educator with a purpose.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

As someone who isn't in the classroom anymore, but working with teachers, I have to admit that I'm feeling more cynical than I ever imagined possible. I think it's because I only hear about problems- as a school coach, my job is to help teachers and schools solve problems, after all. If I don't take the time to get back into my client schools when things are going well, after our relationship has ended and they're on track with what they wanted to do, then I can daily lose track of all the good stuff that's happening out there. Thanks for this reminder Brian!

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