Monday, July 27, 2015

Why Are You Here?

I began my teaching career in the fall of 1973 at Cedar Bluff Middle School in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Many of my views about teaching and learning were influenced by my colleagues and administrators at Cedar Bluff, which included Brenda Yarnell, Jean Wolfe, Catherine Gettys, Barbara Kelly, Linda Pinkstaff, Fred Neidiffer, and George Perry.  I have worked in teacher education since 1986 in Texas and Tennessee.  On several occasions I have been confronted by a similar question: "How can you with a clear conscience encourage students to become teachers?  These students could make much more money in another profession, they will not have any respect in the community, and some fool may come into their classroom and kill every student and teacher in the room."

Every teacher reading this blog has faced similar questions.  When I get up in the morning and look into the mirror, and begin my day as a teacher educator, do I have a clear conscience?  Yes! I believe teaching is a noble and rewarding profession as well as essential for the progress of our nation.  But first, let me deal with violence.  I believe we can agree that we are not safe anywhere, including restaurants, shopping centers, military bases, movie theatres, and church.  As long as a critical and vocal group in this country believes that the country must be awash in guns in order to be safe, this is not going to change.  Our country is the most Christian and the most violent country in the western world.  What a paradox! Regardless, research is clear on the topic of children and violence.  The most dangerous place for a child to be is in the home, and the safest place for a child to be is at school. As you began another school year, renew your commitment to make your classroom a safe place for all children.

I clearly understand the financial limits placed upon your future (based on your decision to be a teacher).  I worked extra jobs during many summers to pay the bills.  I have had students in our teacher licensure program come to my office and withdraw from the program because they do not want to spend the rest of their lives living on the limited teacher’s salary.  I have had former students find me at Homecoming (and in Cracker Barrel) and apologize as they tell me they are leaving the teaching profession in order to make more money in another profession.  During a Meet Maryville on a Saturday a mother asked me, “Why should my daughter pay the tuition at Maryville College and work on a teacher’s salary for the rest of her life?”  These and other questions do not have one simple answer, and each individual teacher must arrive at his/her own answer.

The answer starts with a very important question.  Why are you here?  What is your purpose on this planet?  You could take the existentialist approach to this question and argue that our universe is filled with chaos, and we do not have a master plan or a God who is in control.  We are thrust into this chaos, and each individual must make his/her own order and/or meaning in our existence.      

Of course, one could also take the opposite approach and argue that a sovereign God is in complete control of the events on this planet.  He reveals a plan for each individual who believes. Several years ago I was studying the philosopher, Friedrich Hegel, and I ran across the following quote, “History is God thinking.”   

Regardless, of your approach, I have found that teachers who remain effective in our profession year after year have a powerful sense that teaching is my niche in life, teaching is my calling from God, or teaching is how I make sense of the chaos around me.  In my personal library I have a book entitled The First Principles: A Scientist’s Guide to the Spiritual by John J. Petrovic, retired Fellow of Los Alamos National Laboratory.  In this book he quotes William James, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”  As a teacher pouring your soul into the lives of your students, which includes your passion for learning, your ethic of fairness and justice, and the essential value of hard work, this means these values will be passed down from generation to generation. In this sense your impact is eternal**.

For all teachers who read this blog, as you prepare for a new year, may this be the most rewarding year in your professional career.  Our children need you.

Bless You My Children,
Dr. Terry L. Simpson

**Last spring, one of our math licensure students was asked to calculate the number of K-12 students impacted by Dr. Simpson's 25 years as an educator. It was determined that ~750 MC graduates in the last 25 years directly impacted over 552,000 K-12 students. Eternal impact? You better believe it! 552,000 K-12 students touched by the ideals and philosophies of 1 man. Why are you here?

Monday, July 13, 2015


July 13, 2015 / Simpson's Summer Blog Series

Life is tough.  Any vocation or profession which requires interacting with people for hours each day often brings folks to the point of throwing up their hands and screaming, “I quit!”  Individuals in most professions at some point find a need to express a recommitment to the goals of their profession.  The citizens of a nation at some point in their history realize they need to experience a rebirth in the founding principles of their nation.  Athletes, during a long season, may have to schedule a team meeting to restore the importance of the team rather than placing the emphasis on a few individuals.  Religious folks find the need of revival on a regular basis. 

Being a teacher in K-12 education is a daily emotional, intellectual, and physical drain.  A few years ago, one of our graduates and a first-year teacher emailed me right after school one day with the following message: “Dr. Simpson, remind me why I wanted to be a teacher.”  The following spring when one of her classes filled with low level students made the most academic growth in several years, I received a very different email.  She remembered why she became a teacher.  However, be it the first semester of the first year, the third year, the fifth year, or the twentieth year, most teachers hit a point in which they are in desperate need of renewal

If you are at a low point in your professional career as a teacher, the first step you must first take is to realize you are in need of renewal and you are not alone.  Take a critical look at your diet, regular exercise routine, and rest.  Eating an entire family bag of Hersey Chocolate Nuggets may not be the best approach, but I have tried it once or twice.  I addressed “rest” several weeks back, and you may want to find that blog. 

However, in my 42+ years as a teacher, one significant factor stands out in my observations of other teachers and my self-analysis of the ups and downs of my own professional career.  Teachers who attend conferences, especially conferences in their academic disciplines, tend to experience less burn-out than other teachers.  From 2008 through 2012, I had the privilege of being the Director of the Maryville College East Tennessee Math/Science Partnership.  The impact of this experience on many middle school and high school teachers was profound.   

I emphasize your academic discipline, because outside a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children, your love of the content in your academic discipline played a significant role in your decision to be a teacher.  Gaining new information and a deeper understanding of your academic discipline is a powerful motivational factor.  You may want to start by joining the Tennessee association of your academic discipline and attending their yearly conference.  

The list below may help you get started: 
I am well aware that many school districts will not reimburse you for your membership fee or for the expenses of attending a conference.  However, I think this personal investment in your own professional development and renewal is well worth the personal cost. 

Bless you my children, Terry L. Simpson

(Image by B. Lucas)