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My 15-year-old daughter and I recently had the privilege of attending the commencement ceremony for the graduates at Southern Utah University. Part of my interest in attending was to provide my daughter a first-hand view of the enthusiasm one experiences at a graduation ceremony, the other was listening to a close friend who was asked to deliver this year’s commencement address.
What began as a trip with certain expectations changed as the day progressed. More particularly as a result of the message delivered by my friend’s commencement address. With commencement addresses, one typically expects the message to impact, motivate and inspire the graduates. As I reflect, I’m sure each of these things was accomplished. However, if I were to speculate, I think the message had a more far-reaching impact for many friends and family who attended the ceremony.
You see, my friend reminded us of a very important principle that oftentimes goes unnoticed, the principle of making choices. During the commencement discussion, he reminded us of the vain issues in life that have become prevalent in today’s society. For example, how we look or how smart we are sometimes can define our popularity or social circles. Yet most of these qualities as proven by science are really the bi-product of genetics and DNA. However, the real contributions we provide to each other and society are inseparably defined by the quality of our choices over a long period of time. Too often can we mature into older years asking the question “what if?” What if I had done this or that, when in reality we’re simply questioning our past choices.
As I’ve a passion for young people and the importance of education, this commencement address caused me to ask myself a simple question: who will choose to make education a career now and in the future? You see I come from the world of business. It is competitive and the competition for the “best and brightest” is at a fever pitch for many companies. The cliché “great companies are built upon a foundation of great employees” is as true today as it was 50 years ago.
Knowing of the importance of this statement, companies work feverishly to create the type of environment that hopefully attracts the best and brightest to their particular industries—for example, strong starting wages, in many circumstances healthcare and other benefits, training, defined career paths, mentoring programs and many other incentives geared towards building upon the individual and their careers.
I find myself asking the question of where educators fit into this discussion. The starting wage of an entry-level educator, who is required to have a four-year degree in most circumstances plus a teaching credential, is about the same as your basic receptionist or accounts payable clerk, which usually require a high school diploma. Perhaps it would be fair to assume that those who have historically selected a career in education aren’t in it for the money? We should be asking ourselves whether our best and brightest still think this way.
Then I ask myself the question of this new, intelligent, working-at-the-speed-of-light generation: who will be attracted to a career in education? Perhaps even more importantly of our best and brightest: who will choose to teach the future generation of Utah students? This is vitally important to our future generation as no one person or no technological innovation can ultimately replace the influence and motivation of a great teacher.
Again putting on my business hat, what are we doing to attract the best and brightest and, perhaps more importantly, do we view the vocation of an educator as a career? If so, do we have defined career paths, training, mentoring programs and other initiatives geared towards their ongoing improvement and growth? After all, the best and brightest have options—their careers are the means by which they ultimately sustain themselves, families and future aspirations for the basic things of life. Will our best and brightest choose a path of career uncertainty?
In the world of business, we have a fairly defined structure in the nurturing of our employees and their individual careers. In the world of education things are not quite so clear. Both business and education tend to react to the delicate ebb and flows of our economy, although most businesses tend to be very strategic in planning and deployment of capital. In the world of education, we tend to deal with the here and now due to the limiting factors of government at a fiscal level. Should we choose to abandon traditional fiscal thinking and embrace change requiring committed strategic investment ensuring Utah as the best place to educate a child?
As I contemplate choices and the impacts to education, I conclude that the ultimate responsibility exists with our citizens and the officials appointed to represent us. I therefore find myself asking simple questions:
We as citizens have a choice to make—me and you. May we choose to be courageous and place the needs of the future generation in front of our own and support education in all its forms.