A Teacher’s Work Ethic

Teaching isn’t for cowards.

It’s not for the work weak. You need endurance.

It’s not for the work week. You do it even on weekends and holidays.

My dad was a teacher for three decades, as a junior academy Adventist teacher for about a decade and two decades as a 6th grade public school teaching in California in a “portable” classroom most of that time.

As a 12 year old, I remember waking up to go the bathroom at night and seeing the light on over the kitchen table where my dad had fallen asleep grading papers or prepping an art project or a class project on science.

That was when I decided I was NOT going to be teacher. It looked like way too much work.

I knew my dad’s work ethic.  If you read my blog on Christian Work Ethic you know where I got some of my reference points about endurance. I watched my dad build a house, fix cars, do autobody work and teach.

The oldest son of a farmer, he had learned to muscle down and work. I would later learn his biggest motivation was saving money (something my dad and his siblings were notoriously good at—a frugal bunch.  It’s good he saved as he has been retired about as long as he was in teaching.)

Through my teen years, I started softening toward the idea of teaching as I was assigned to help teach pre-teens at my church. I would enjoy gathering material and even rented films from the local library to use in the churches old film projector. Later I would help with a high school bible study group. I also had some excellent science and math teachers in high school and great Bible teachers in college. I especially was inspired by Dick Winn, a golden-tonged teacher of bible and marriage and family at Weimar College.

I majored in religion and minored in education and finished teaching credentials at Pacific Union College and La Sierra University.

But my first full-time teaching job was overwhelming. As a 7th grade teacher I was pathetic. Despite great training in college, excellent coaching from a superb principal, advice from my dad and one of the best facilities Adventism had at the time, I flopped. I saved the school the grief of firing me by telling them I wouldn’t be coming back the next year.

In fact, I didn’t know if I would be coming back at all to anything related to teaching.

I did some construction (which I enjoyed) and substitute teaching in public schools, where I would slowly learn how to love students and manage classrooms. Before I loved classrooms and managed students. I tossed over in my mind again the two routes I had before me: pastoring or teaching. I headed back to take an MA in Religion to see if I could get a job as an academy bible teacher/chaplain.

I never made it. I got my MA, but by then, Loma Linda University gave me a chance to teach two large college bible classes and I loved it. I knew that this was what I wanted to do. Thanks LLU for getting me back to a love for teaching.

I scrambled to find and finish a PhD program while working as a university researcher and teacher.

20 years later I can honestly say teaching—at least college teaching—has become a great fit for me. I have been able to write and publish, teaching on a wide range of topics and work on leadership and quasi-administrative projects. A truly varied job with lots of expectations that allow individuals to work toward their strengths.

There is a saying that has been humorous but challenging for me as I have thought about the work of teaching.

The say  “Elementary teachers love their students. Secondary teachers love their subjects. College teachers love themselves.”

It is funny,but I don’t buy that. I have seen sacrificial teachers at all levels and some of the longest hours of teaching are buy some of us college teachers who teach year round and travel to teach groups all over the world.

Teaching isn’t for cowards….but with the right opportunities, and the help of friends and mentors, we can become courageous enough to continue to grow as teachers and become better at this delicate of all professional responsibilities.

My creative and different view of calling (see my blog) and my view of work ethics (see my blog on that)   has motivated me to see teaching as one of the greatest of the helping professions.

When I got tenure at The University of Akron, it proved to be a deep affirmation of my calling into teaching that has sustained me when the times have gotten difficult. I ended my presentation with a quote from my favorite teacher-writer Lewis B. Smedes’ Standing on the Promises (1998):

“I was a teacher for a whisker short of forty years, and I was never, not ever, not for a single day, in any of those forty years, the teacher I wished to be. Nor the teacher I believed I could be. At the end of every school year, I felt the sort of discontent with myself that a baseball player who is used to winning must feel after a middling season. But every fall when school began again, I felt a new surge of hope that this might be the year when I actually did my job the way I felt it should be done. This …hope kept me content to live with my discontent, and it was hope that made my discontented life of teaching a life for which to be very grateful” p. 13.

“My early discontent with the way things were is melting down to gratitude for the way things are. I am sometimes stunned by how much better my life is than I once dared hoped it would be. And I find myself (bit by bit) adjusting my earlier hopes that were born of discontent with the way things were to a more serene hope that I will be content at last with whatever God wills to give” p. 84.

I don’t know if I will make it 40 years, or even be able to finish a book or two like Dick Winn or my favorite applied Christian ethicist Lewis B. Smedes, but I can keep hoping.

If you want a diverse profession, teaching may be  great choice.

(The picture shows two of my doctoral students. Ralph Chatoor and Cary Valentine. Working with such talented individuals on such interesting ideas has been very rewarding!!!)

2 Replies to “A Teacher’s Work Ethic”

  1. Having NOT spent the majority of my career in education settings up until the last few years, I have formed a belief as to why teaching is the profession I want to retire in; It’s a selfish reason namely that I feel forced to improve myself and avoid procrastination when I’m trying to improve other’s. It may have took me nearly 30 years to figure that premise about myself but after a few serious illnesses and injuries I’m fortunate to have survived, the urgency to “improve” is becoming more intense for me as each day passes. Inversely, my hope is that those teachers who have worked and are working to improve me (such as Duane Covrig) will find similar reciprocity in the fact that letting them down is not something I think I could live with if I’m fortunate to have another 25-30 years or not. 😉


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