31 for 41: When I grow up

Dear Donovan,

When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a doctor.  That’s why I minored in Chemistry and worked with a surgeon in the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2000.  My path seemed to be set, but I struggled with doubts about whether or not I would be happy on that path.  I think meeting Ana in the summer of 2018 had a profound impact on me.  Then in 2019, another summer trip gave me further cause to reconsider my career path.

I had an internship in New York City, working for an organization that served homeless populations in the city.  I spent my mornings tutoring men in Math as they prepared to take a test to earn a high school equivalency diploma.  All of these men had been homeless, and most had been through a detox program before being ready to focus on furthering their education.  The program I worked for provided these men with housing and other services like the tutoring I was allowed to help with that summer.

These men were not lazy or careless, as some might think would be common traits of men who had been homeless.  To the contrary, as a general rule, the men I tutored were quick-witted, deep thinkers, diligent to tasks, and very personable and kind.  As I learned these men’s stories over time, the other general rule was that they all had suffered greatly from lack of opportunity, especially when it came to education and mental health care.  It was not lost on me, also, that the single most significant way in which the program I was working for was serving the homeless was by providing education in multiple ways.  The goal was to help individuals acquire a skill and a piece of paper that could open doors.

The short version of it all, then, is that I changed my mind about medical school during my senior year of college and instead decided to become a public school teacher.  That is not to put down, in any way, the incredible profession that is being a doctor, nor the countless opportunities that physicians have for educating individuals and families.  I just knew that I wanted to teach.

What I did not count on, however, was the reaction I received from many individuals who clearly thought that being a doctor would have been a much better idea than being a teacher.  Twenty years later, I think the sentiment remains the same for some people.  I do not regret my career decision one bit, and I think you know that, but I have never told you why I am so satisfied with the decision.  That’s the purpose of this letter.

Many years ago, I was watching a daytime television talk show and saw a feature on a military medical surgeon.  He was highly revered in both the military community and the medical community, and had been offered prestigious positions that would secure his exemption from having to do more overseas military tours.  Instead of accepting a comfortable position, he kept choosing to do more tours in dangerous places.  The talk show host asked him why he would make such a decision.  Summarizing with my words, his answer was this:  “When our military men and women are injured and need a surgeon quickly, they deserve to have the best doctors waiting to operate on them.”

That idea has always stuck with me since hearing his words.  I am not trying, in any way, to place myself on the same level as a teacher as this man was in his own profession.  But I do want to be a top-notch teacher and fulfill the same idea as what he was saying.  When you and the twins walk into a classroom, I think you deserve to have the best of the best when it comes to quality educators.  I think we should want that for all of our children.   If our classrooms are filled with only the highest quality of teachers, because we have put in the work to make it that way, then more doors will be open to students.  Each year that I choose to enter the classroom, I am making that statement in the best way I can and trying to be a part of that solution.  I am choosing to value children, honor their potential, and help cultivate their gifts.

Another reason that I keep choosing to teach is because of how much I cherish the beauty and importance of the teaching and learning experience.  From my viewpoint, each person I encounter can teach me something, and each person I encounter is capable of amazing growth.  Our society has lost a bit of that treasure found in having the older share wisdom with the younger, the expert teach the apprentince, and the joy of attaining a new skill.  Education should not just be about getting a piece of paper.  I try to send the message that education is about discovery, developing a strong work ethic, communication, cooperation, excellence, and maintaining a free society.

Finally, I want you to know that I keep teaching because I believe it is what God wants me to do.  And from that belief that He placed me where I am flows the desire to do my best and serve those around me.  I am clear on Who I work for, and I know that my work has meaning.  All of these things are in alignment because I am where He placed me.

I believe that each of us is created for a purpose, and that if we do what our Creator called us to do, that is the place where we will be most satisfied.  There is a place of meaning and fulfillment for each person.  So as you move through your senior year and consider that question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?,” do not look first to money or position or notoriety or comfort.  God created you for a purpose, and He knows where you will flourish and be at peace.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;  Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.  Colossians 3: 23-24

I love you forever,

Your mom




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