For Whom the (School) Bell Tolls: What Calls You to Teaching?

June 15, 2015

Editor’s Note: Corey Oliver is a National Board Certified Teacher in English Language Arts. He teaches 7th grade English in the Conway Public School District in Conway, Arkansas. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

"Mr. Oliver, if you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” Although I had heard this saying before, hearing it directly from a 13-year-old gave it much greater impact.

On a break from activities during a weekend retreat for an extracurricular organization I sponsored during my first year of teaching, Cody (one of my students) and I discussed—among other topics—what had taken place so far during the retreat. When our conversation led to Cody’s goals, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said that he wanted to join the military (which he later did). Cody was excited about the prospect of serving his country, and I encouraged him to work hard to achieve that dream. Unexpectedly, Cody turned the tables during our conversation and inspired me with those words of wisdom he had heard before: “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” Arresting and motivating, Cody’s advice compelled me to reexamine why I had chosen teaching as a career. His advice still—18 years later—prompts me to ask myself “Why do I teach?”

When the final dismissal bell of a school year rings, students rush out of schools and into a highly anticipated, fun-filled summer vacation (followed ever so closely by teachers rushing out of schools and into a highly anticipated, fun-filled summer vacation). A focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic—the timeless three R’s—is now being replaced by a focus on an indispensable fourth R…REST! While rest is, indeed, a nonnegotiable item on the teacher’s summer “To Do” list, summer’s respite presents teachers the perfect opportunity to reflect on their practice and answer the question, “What in the world am I doing here?"

This great, big world that we inhabit contains a multiplicity of fulfilling professions from which individuals can choose. The decision to teach is a vital one, not just for the teacher who has decided to teach, but also for that teacher’s future students. Because the potential success (or lack thereof) of impressionable young people is at stake, it is critical for the individual making the decision to teach to consider the sheer magnitude of that decision. So much is riding on it. After entering the profession, it is beneficial to ask oneself, “What in the world am I doing here in teaching to have the greatest impact possible on students?”

Am I…

  • Gaining knowledge of—and meeting—students’ diverse needs?

  • Taking students’ personal interests into consideration when designing instruction?

  • Incorporating technology into instruction in ways that enhance students’ understanding of curricular concepts?

  • Collaborating regularly with colleagues for the benefit of students?

  • Partnering with families and the community to impact students’ learning?

Being a reflective practitioner is tightly woven into the fabric of the National Board Certification process. National Board Certification does not just require intense reflection on one’s practice; it improves intense reflection on one’s practice. It is incumbent upon educators (not just NBCTs) to engage in routine reflection for continued growth. What in the world am I doing here? I am taking regular inventory of my practice to improve my students’ learning.

“Mr. Oliver, if you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” I now know exactly what Cody meant (at the young age of 13) when he uttered this profound statement. Answering the call to a career that a person genuinely loves, a career for which an individual has great passion, is one of the most significant decisions in life. Cody eagerly answered the call to join the U.S. military. In answering the call to teach, we have answered the call of one of the most immensely rewarding vocations in this great, big world. Let us continually ask ourselves (during summer’s respite and throughout the year), “What in the world am I doing here?”

Our continued growth necessitates it, and next year’s students, when they return from this highly anticipated, fun-filled summer vacation, deserve it!

Corey Oliver, NBCT

Corey Oliver, a National Board Certified Teacher in  English Language Arts, teaches 7th grade English in the Conway Public School District in Conway, Arkansas. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas (also in Conway), Corey maintains his involvement with the University as an adjunct instructor in the College of Education. Passionate about expanding his cultural awareness through international travel experiences and, in turn, increasing his students' understanding and appreciation of the world around them, Corey has participated in five international training programs for educators, traveling to Russia, China, Japan and South Africa.