Student-teaching is complete, graduation is quickly approaching, the job search has commenced and for some of you lucky few been completed, and you are filled with a combination of conflicting emotions.
At the end of Matthew 28, Jesus gathers the 11 remaining disciples and gives them the “Great Commission” to go make disciples. As your professors and student-teaching mentors send you off and tell you to “go” I stand in front of you and bid you to “come”. Just as you have been able to sit at the feet of your professors, follow their teaching, and work alongside mentor-teachers it is now your chance to enter into “our” profession and have students sit at your feet and “follow” you.
Join me in this amazing profession. I have embraced this call with joy, vigor, and boldness as I seek to follow Christ and draw my students to Him along the way. My twenty year journey (so far) has taken me from Wheaton College to California as a coach, back to Chicago as a public school teacher, out to Boston as a student and academic leader, back to Chicago as a school leader, and now back to California as a school counselor. What I do next is unknown to me, but I have found that there is no greater joy than being with my students, my class, my team, or my school and to create a vision for whom we can become individually and corporately.
Throughout this journey I have won state championships, had a student stabbed in the head outside my classroom door, had a student find saving faith in my office, celebrated outstanding achievement on ACT scores, provided for students as they struggled to find enough food to eat or a place to sleep, traveled all over the country, cried with a student at the death of a parent or classmate, reflected in regret at particular students who still despise me today for how I failed to lead them well, and praised God each day for his provisions of grace, wisdom, and life.
I do not know what your career will look like or where that career will lead, but I want to encourage you to think of this journey into “our” profession in 3 ways:
First, become a great practitioner. Be known as a great educator who is always learning to get better, where students learn at high levels, where the students believe in themselves, and most importantly where they trust you to lead and guide them because of the quality of your work and character.
Second, become a leader in this beloved profession. I have had the opportunity to be a union grievance chairman, an academic dean, a high school principal, and now a presenter, writer, and advocate. Our profession needs you to be involved in the decision-making process. For example, as a young professional I chose to become a high school principal, which was ultimately more about my desire to be an agent of change in the educational system than just fulfilling a job as a school bureaucrat or an escape from the grind of the classroom.
Third, always keep in mind that we are in a human profession. A book that changed my professional career, which I read at a retreat after completing my student-teaching was Parker Palmer’s To Know as We are Known. He writes, “Good teachers also bring students into community with themselves and each other—not simply for the sake of warm feelings, but to do the difficult things that teaching and learning require.” Remember that a student who is rebelling or struggling to learn has a soul, is a creature of God’s imagination, and is worthy of your love and grace. The best part of being an educator is telling that student “Follow Me” as Christ calls out to us each day to follow Him.
“Come!” Join me and the other CACE Fellows and allow your professors and mentors to take great pride in the great things you will do.
Erik Ellefsen has served in education for 21 years as a teacher, coach, consultant, Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, and as Principal at Chicago Christian High School. He currently serves as an Academic and College Counselor at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, CA), a Senior Fellow for CACE, a Senior Fellow for Cardus, podcaster for Digical Education, and as Vice President of CCEI. Erik regularly organizes Christian school leadership seminars and speaks on issues pertaining to academic program, student leadership, and organizational development. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.