I want you to look closely at this group of students—top academic performers in majors across the various academic divisions on this campus with an average GPA of 3.71. You have the potential to be successful in the profession of your choosing. As highly motivated students, you have freely chosen to dedicate your professional lives to the education of our children.
The political pundits claim that our brightest students do not become teachers. I don’t think so! Maybe they should visit our campus and talk to our teacher licensure students.
The naysayers argue that today’s students are self-centered and concerned only with the material things they will acquire in life. I don’t think so! They should ask these students about their values and goals.
The doomsday prophets lament about the failure of our schools, especially our public schools. I don’t think so! These men and women will be professionally successful wherever they teach, and their students will be academically successful.
A few months back we reached a point in this country that should have caused alarm, but it did not. For the first time in our nation, the majority of American children live in poverty. Considering this information we must remember, your role as a teacher is even more critical. Research has consistently demonstrated that children from poor families must have effective and creative teachers or they will fail.
In spite of this need for teachers, we know that our schools lose a significant number of our brightest and most creative teachers within the first three years of their teaching experience. Don’t forget that our schools desperately need you. They need your knowledge, your creativity, and most of all your idealism.
However, I must remind you that many schools have a very powerful, self- appointed committee—the Water Bucket Brigade. It is the task of this brigade, much like pouring water on a campfire, to stamp out the fires of enthusiasm in new teachers. They want to destroy your idealism in the name of their real life “realism” and “I don’t care anymore” attitudes. However, they understand neither idealism nor realism.
Don’t let anyone, including burned out colleagues, destroy your idealism. The most destructive room in the school building is the teachers’ lounge! Avoid this room. Without high ideals and striving for perfection, a society is doomed to mediocrity and eventual failure. I am here to reaffirm your idealism. You must never quit. You will earn the respect of those in you community; you will make a difference in the lives of children; you will have a positive and lasting influence on American society. And, when you are named teacher of the year, you must call us before you call your mother.
Several months ago, I viewed an interview with a former Tennessee Commissioner of Education. She spoke of a meeting that she had with a group of very successful entrepreneurs each of whom had risen from poverty to success. She said that each of the entrepreneurs could immediately tell you the teacher that made the difference in his or her life.
I am finishing my 26th year at Maryville College and 43rd year as a teacher, and at this point in my life, I often reflect on my success and failure. I am old enough to have that privilege and you have to listen.
Although I have no idea how it will happen, in my faith community we believe that we will give a final account of how we lived during this brief time on earth. The Holy Scripture that I read has a letter from the Apostle Paul to Christians at Thessalonica. Paul had taught and poured his soul into the lives these individuals. He wrote, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are my glory and joy.”
Just thinking about giving a final account of my life gives me great pause. When I contemplate on my many failures, I can only appeal for mercy and forgiveness. This is the very reason I refrain from judging others. This may seem selfish, but I am too concerned about my own accountability to worry about others.
However, when I think of you and the time we have spent pouring our souls into your development as teachers of our children, with boldness and confidence on that day of final accounting I will present you to our Lord. For you are my hope, my joy and my crown of exultation.
In this my 26th year at Maryville College, I never cease to be amazed at the quality of students who enter our teacher education program. I surely have the best job on this planet. I consider it an honor and privilege to work with you. You make us very proud.
Bless you my children.