The idea of having a mission statement is not new: businesses, schools and non-profits have long espoused the practice as a way to define, give direction, differentiate, and motivate. Stephen Covey1 famously popularized the personal mission statement; Bruce Feiler2 is one of many authors who advocate a family mission statement. But what about a personal-professional mission statement, a statement not about your school or personal life, but for you as an individual teacher? To teach is indeed a mission, one that is as challenging as it is rewarding. One fraught with demands, doubts, frustrations, and fatigue. One that can quickly overwhelm even a seasoned veteran. We must stay focused on our true north, or we will lose our way.
Although I often think about why I teach, I did not write out my own mission statement until this year. It has proved to be a touchstone of strength and focus amid the chaos. I encourage you to try writing one. Here are some steps that may help:
- Reflect on the reasons you wanted to become a teacher, and the (possibly different) reasons you remain a teacher. Maybe you love the “aha” moment. Maybe you believe an educated society is the highest public good. Maybe you see yourself as one of the few reliable adults that some of your students have. Maybe you hope that what happens in your classroom could somehow, someday change the trajectory of someone’s life.
- Reflect on what you love about your content area. Hopefully, you are passionate about your subject: I always say that every teacher should believe that her or his subject is the most important one in the building, the one human beings can’t possibly live without. (This is how I feel about literature and writing.)
- Think about the rewards you get from teaching. Why do you suffer the daily exhaustion and trials that come with our profession? We serve, in any capacity, because somehow it nourishes our very being. The service we are most passionate about is the one yoked to our spirits, the one that makes us feel we have a place in this world. How does teaching do this for you?
- Once you summon the conviction that whatever it is you teach adds meaning to human existence (for me, it is the works of Homer, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and Shakespeare) and that you have chosen to pass on that gift, ask yourself: How can I lead others? How can I contribute to the profession as a whole? How can I, through my teaching, elevate not only my students and community, but humanity itself?
This is your mission statement.
1The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013
2The Secrets of Happy Families, 2013