Called to Serve
Dr. John Hoekstra
Adult Studies Commencement, May 14, 2011
President Timmermans, Provost Rudenga, Faculty, Family, Friends and most importantly Graduates; I’m honored to have this opportunity to address you.
Graduates, this commencement ceremony officially celebrates your successful completion of the Trinity Christian College Adult Studies-Education Program. Your diligence and hard work have brought you to this point; you are teacher candidates, and soon will be certified as teachers in the State of Illinois. You have earned the right to join a profession to which there is no equal.
You have been called to serve and are now prepared to answer that call. I trust that for many years to come you will experience the deep satisfaction of knowing that you have positively impacted the lives and futures of the students entrusted to you, that you had an impact on your students’ growth as human beings and that you played a significant role in helping your students reach their potential.
Most of you started the Adult Studies-Education Program at the beginning of September 2009. All of you came to Trinity because you had a goal, a dream to become a teacher. Your reasons for selecting Trinity varied. Many of you came because you had heard positive things about the Trinity program, some of you came because Trinity promised to offer a program in a Christian environment, perhaps you came to finally realize your life-long dream of becoming a teacher, some of you indicated that you needed the accelerated program because, and I quote: “at my age I need to complete a program as quickly as possible.” However, the overriding reason you came, and you’ve expressed this in various ways, is that you want to make a difference in the lives of students.
Some of you came not particularly proud of your previous college performance; you voiced concerns about juggling the responsibilities of family and jobs and meeting all the course requirements in the Adult Studies Program. But you came to Trinity with a commitment to successfully meet all the requirements for becoming a certified teacher.
When you first saw the demanding grading scale utilized by the Trinity Education Department, you worried, because after all, your grades would need to be posted on the refrigerator along with the report cards of your children. But you’ve met the challenge, and seeing all your gold cords, you have indeed met the challenge successfully.
For about sixteen months you attended a four-hour class session almost every week. You learned how to juggle family, job and school responsibilities. Some of you rushed here right from work, hoping that the snacks brought by members of your cohort would keep you going until 10 o’clock. Maybe you had to make sure your children had dinner before you came and perhaps you had to make sure the baby sitter was in place. You learned what it means to be in an accelerated program, every five or six weeks you started a new course. You soon discovered that you had to make significant room in your already busy schedule for course assignments and textbook readings. I know that at least some of you at times had little sleep. But you persevered!
You learned about the history and the influences that have shaped American education. You became acquainted with the wonderful technology available to teachers today and you know how to integrate the technology into your teaching for the benefit of your students. You’ve learned how to plan for instruction through preparing seemingly endless lesson and unit plans. You know that without effective classroom management, optimum teaching and learning will not take place. You understand the importance of establishing positive working relationships with the parents of your students, and with other teachers and school administrators. You understand the inclusion of special needs students into regular classrooms; you are ready to do your part in RTI, the response to intervention for students, who are not progressing as necessary. You know how to make accommodations for your students, and you know how to differentiate instruction.
While you were going through the Adult Studies Program you were forced to reflect on most everything you did, and as a result, you have become reflective practitioners.
The Trinity Christian College Mission Statement in part reads:
“All programs are grounded on a core of foundational studies that address the enduring issues of human experience and teach students to explore and apply the implications of a Reformed world-and-life view to all areas of learning, living and working. Students are encouraged to evaluate their lives in relationship to God, to others, and to all creation.”
You’ve learned that it is your personal worldview that influences how you interact and approach your students. It is that worldview, which will directly influence everything you do as a teacher.
Believe that every child entrusted to you deserves your very best…even the student who brings nothing to like.
The last seventeen weeks have been demanding for you. As a student teacher you learned firsthand that excellent teaching consumes an extraordinary amount of your time, that at times every ounce of energy you could muster was consumed. But you survived; you experienced the thrill of knowing that you did indeed impact your students’ learning.
You now have a much clearer understanding of your strengths and you know the areas that may require some additional work on your part. I trust that all of you have experienced what one of you wrote a few weeks ago:
“Hey, I think I can actually do this,” and “When I left school today, I felt like a teacher.”
Reaching this milestone has to give you a true sense of accomplishment. With your hard work you have earned today’s celebration. Your family and friends are celebrating with you; perhaps they’re hoping that now you’ll have more time for them again.
But while you’re experiencing the joy of completing a demanding portion of your journey, you may also be experiencing some anxiety, some insecurity, and some ambivalence about what the future will bring.
You’re wondering about when and where you will find a teaching position. You’ve heard the news about teacher layoffs in some places, you know about the budget issues some school districts are experiencing. You know that many aspects of public education are under close scrutiny. The influence of teacher unions is certainly being challenged. Teacher pension systems will likely be changed. The disparities in education, which have been a reality for too long, are once again a focus for many, including politicians. And surely, the quality of a child’s education should not be determined by where the child was born.
Public schools in the United States will not remain the same. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education School Act promises to include significant changes. School funding is likely to change; parent choice and the charter school movement continue to gain momentum. Merit pay recognition for excellent teachers will likely become a reality during your teaching career. We know that the quality and expertise of the teacher influences the achievement of students to a large degree. While teacher excellence is a growing concern, the reality is that there are ineffective teachers, teachers who are actually hurting students, in too many classrooms. Teacher tenure as we know it will probably not continue to exist.
Knowing all of this, rest assured that God has a plan for you. Know that there are signs of improvement for the economy. Know that new crops of students will continue to come. Know that teachers will continue to leave the profession or retire, and know that there will always be a need for excellent teachers.
Years ago, the American Humorist, Erma Bombeck, wrote a syndicated newspaper column titled Teaching the 3 R’s – plus the rest of alphabet. Perhaps some of you remember her words from your Introduction to Education class, Irma wrote:
“Welcome to teaching, Miss Stevenson. Your mission is to teach 26 first-graders how to read. You will be reinforced by every modern bit of technology, including visuals and computers. You will have the confidence of parents, support of administration and love of the children. Oh, just one thing. You won’t forget to instill good nutrition habits, teach the gifted, the neurologically impaired, the emotionally disturbed, and develop civic responsibility, will you? And check for head lice, make sure they have a hot breakfast, collect milk money and arrange their transportation to and from school. Did I mention eye testing and shots and instruction of first aid procedures? It goes without saying you will provide sex education – in a tasteful way, of course. And you’ll have to make time to build economic awareness, assist in bladder control, stress bilingual development and eliminate sex discrimination.
Just be glad you aren’t in secondary education. They have to teach kids how to drive a car, counsel them in their career, solve alcohol and drug abuse problems and counsel them in pregnancy.
You’re fortunate. All you have is bicycle safety, building self worth and respect, and instilling a sense of patriotism. All we expect from you is to give the public what they want – a back-to-basics education. Good luck, Miss Stevenson.
Miss Stevenson? Miss Stevenson!
No one wants to teach kids how to read anymore.”
Graduates, with all you know about the difficulties teachers face, with all you know about the challenges you will need to meet head on, with knowing the tremendous effort and time it takes to do the job well, with knowing that your efforts will not always be valued and appreciated, go and answer God’s call to serve. Whether you teach in a wealthy suburban school, a high needs or inner-city school, go and love your students, and give each one of them your very best. Go and make a difference.
May your students someday refer to you as the teacher they gratefully remember for truly having impacted their lives in a positive way. Serve with the prayer from Deuteronomy 32:2:
May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth.
Go and answer your call to serve and “Serve with Excellence.”