In teaching, there is no corporate ladder. Unless you decide to pursue a career in administration, you enter the classroom at twenty-four and leave at sixty-three exactly where you started.
After it was clear that having a family took more money, I earned my Master’s in Educational Administration, but soon realized my heart wasn’t in it and ultimately, decided against it. Teaching was my passion. So when I retire, it will be in exactly the place I started, probably even in the same classroom. That’s one of the Zen moments of MY teaching.
In our profession, then, the movement is not up, but out. Our influence in the world has a ripple effect, like concentric circles on the surface of a lake. The students we encounter go into the world and are changed by the experiences they have with us. We leave a footprint and, thanks to our students, that footprint gets passed onto the future.
And while it’s hard to pay your mortgage with a metaphorical footprint, that’s a pretty awesome way to spend your career and, as Steve Jobs used to say, “make a dent in the universe.”
Teaching may not provide a string of brass rings that we grab along the way—the big paycheck, the luxury car, the corner office with the stunning view—but there is a Zen tranquility in knowing that the ripples we make influence (and often improve) the future. That’s not just a goal, but a certainty. We all know teachers who are not passionate about the job, who do it for the paycheck, and for whom teaching is not a “calling.” Those teachers can still do good work, and yet I mourn their lack of passion that would help make their experience transcendent. Generally speaking, however, teachers do some of the most important and influential work I can think of.
But if the goal is the path, then as teachers, it helps to love the path. TZT