“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it”― Gautama Buddha
Yesterday was Labor Day. Every year at the church where I worship, on Labor Day someone from the parish talks about the value of work. This year was no different. What was different, though, was that a 23-year-old woman was asked to speak about labor and what it has meant in her young life. She spoke about finding purpose in whatever work we do and acknowledging that all work is valuable and can be linked to purpose. She spoke about the importance of finding purpose and passion in work and recognizing when it does not exist so that the passion can be created there or found in another kind of work.
This young woman's first job was working in a movie theater where, at 17, she found purpose in giving others joy and entertainment as they went to see a film. Presently she is working two jobs. One of her jobs is bringing a group of mentally disabled adults to church every Thursday evening. She finds purpose in helping others find their spiritual connection and wants to create a space for this connection for others who might need support in this pursuit. She also supervises a local farm and works with the farmer to learn all she needs to know (she had never farmed before) so that she can effectively allow the crops that they produce to be shared with others. She spoke about looking at a pepper and knowing that her work allows others, families, to have food like that pepper on their table to nourish their bodies and bring families around a table. This young woman amazed me as she spoke about purpose and going after work that gives passion. At 23 years of age, she had found something that escapes many adults across a lifetime.
Since my very first day of kindergarten, I knew that my purpose was to be an educator. My kindergarten teacher created a space of fun, love, play and learning that took me in that very first day as she read aloud books to our class. I promptly went home and announced to my family that I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher when I grew up. And in first grade I announced that I wanted to be a first grade teacher. And the story continued with each grade tapping into me a deep desire to serve as that grade level teacher. I have not swayed from that kindergarten passion (except for the development of a love of writing as a high schooler) with a wonder about how I could be a writer and a teacher. In my career I have actually taught all grades K through graduate school and, lucky me, in the last years have been able to teach teachers how to write and how to teach writing.
As educators, purpose is paramount. And instilling purpose in our young people is a worthy aspiration. Every year, as I work with students and adults, I observe those I work with and think about what natural gifts that student or teacher brings to the classroom so that I can use that natural gift to help support learning. One year I was teaching fifth grade and I had the delight to teach Carl. Carl's natural gifts were not of a reading and writing variety. He struggled with language and didn't feel that he was a good student. One afternoon we were outside on the playground and I was watching my class as my attention was drawn to Carl. He played with wild abandon. He laughed. He included. He ran and jumped. He lost himself in his play and that day I lost myself in observing him do something so well. Carl was the best "player" in my class. As I recognized that, I was able to tap into that natural ability and let it enhance other parts of what he did in the classroom. And even more than that, that afternoon on the playground opened me up to a deep understanding that all students bring gifts to the classroom. Things that they and they alone can do. As a teacher, one of my jobs is to recognize that gift, that potential and provide openings for students to grow there. This work will create children who become adults who find passion and purpose in all that they do. That is my purpose.
So, as I begin this new school year, I go into this valuable work with this renewed understanding of purpose and possibility. I enter a new school year with a desire, with a passion, to create conditions that allow children and adults to tap into their gifts, to discover possibilities and know their purpose. I enter this school year knowing that as we touch the children of today, we support the evolution of young adults like the young woman who spoke of the importance of purpose at my church this weekend. Honestly, what could be better than that?!
Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.