I have been employed as a teacher several times in my life, but this is the first year in which I am actually employed full time at an academic institution going into the start of the academic year. Not strictly as a teacher, but much of what I do is providing educational services to our students. And with a week to go before school begins, I have to say: wow, I should have been a lot more grateful to all the teachers I ever had. There is so much forethought, hard work, and preparation that goes into the job before the students even get to campus.
And yet, it took me years to even become aware of the rich value of what I was getting in school. In elementary and high school, I didn’t think about what my classes meant; they were just there and present and required, like chores or personal hygiene. In college I was even worse – once I realized that my presence in class wasn’t actually required, school occupied a place in my mind not far from “books” or “fruit juice” – something that was available, sometimes enjoyable and/or good for you, but generally optional and only vaguely desirable because it was widely known to promote general well being. I selected classes based on how interesting or fun they might be, and generally did well only when I found them engaging.
Only after I left college, and realized that it had given me no momentum for a career, did it dawn on me that there could have been a connection between the classes I chose and how well I did in them, and the progress I could make in my adult life. So when I went to law school, those thoughts were foremost in my mind, and I was determined to perform well, knowing how important it could be to getting a good job in a big law firm. And I did do well, and I did get a good job in a big law firm.
Later, in a non-academic context, I learned to pay attention to other factors that enter into career fulfillment – not just how well I could perform certain tasks, for example, but also how much I enjoyed them, and how valuable others considered them. Growth is a marvelous thing. (As opposed to “a growth,” which no one ever boasts about.) But I tell you this: for all we hear about the value of gaining knowledge or experience or the importance of developing judgment or emotional intelligence, the key to personal and professional progress is often a matter of reducing obliviousness.
So, let’s toast all our teachers, who work so hard to help us develop the tools we need to succeed; and let’s honor them, by committing ourselves to an oblivity reduction program – so that we can figure out on our own what best to do with those tools in figuring out fulfillment.