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Authors Note: What follows below is a long excerpt from a summary of

my motivations for becoming a teacher, as I wrote them for my first
graduate level teaching credential course in February 1998. I have
added footnotes to serve as reflections, highlighting continuity and
change in my own thinking, brought on by the more than 18 years that
since have passed.

Troy Cantrell
Blackwell / ED 611
15 February 1998 1

At thirteen years old I knew what I wanted to do in life. I was inspired by a dreamy adolescent
idealism: Ignorance is the most threatening plague of humanity, and education, its remedy, is far
more than a scholarly pursuit. At its best, educations acquaints us with our own character, the
common objectives of religion and philosophy, because the first requirement for loving others is
understanding ourselves.3 Now, fourteen years later, it is still humanitarianism that motivates

I have no illusions about monetary gain and the teaching profession. On the contrary, teachings
modesty is precisely what appeals to me, as my motivations are largely religious. Theologians,
philosophers, scholars, and seekers of every stripe can spend years, conceivably a lifetime and
1 Oh my God! Whole lifetimes have literally come and gone since 1998. It took
from the beginning of humanity until 1800 AD for the world population to reach 1
billion people; since 1998, the world population has increased by 1.3 billion. As for
me: I have been married, become the father of a ten-year-old son, been divorced,
and engaged. Still, 1998 to me seems, on most days, to be about sometime last
2 Notice I did not include a title to this essay in the original versionan omission
that I would not let pass in the work of my students today
3 At my high school graduation ceremony, there were three student speakers: the
valedictorian, the senior class president, and me, the student elected to speak by
my class; I lifted this sentence, almost verbatim, from my own speech that I gave at

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then some, on attempting to answer the question of what it meansthat is, what is requiredto
be a Christian. The conundrum can be approached a variety of ways, from the dispassionate
secular historical attempt based on the available evidence (which is at best fragmentary and
uncertain), to the unquestioning, and therefore unthinking, belief of a passionate born-again. Put
aside for a moment the question of Jesus historical tenability, and the enigma of his divinity, and
the age old mystery of what is required to be a Christian becomes less mysterious. If Jesus
words are examined in the text primae facie, then the answer is straight-forward. In the book of
Matthew, a rich young man comes to Jesus and him directly what is needed to be a Christian.
Jesus responds matter-of-factly that in order to be close to God, the young man must take his
belongings, sell them, give the money to the poor, and have faith that in so doing, he is
performing Gods work and his own personal needs will be met in fact to a greater degree than
his former materialism provided.
At first glance, Jesus philosophy seems more than a little delusional, and it is little
wonder why the young man went away incredulous. Modern readers, if taking this passage
seriously, are probably inclined to sympathize with the young man. Does this religion expect its
followers to not carry life insurance, to be intentionally impoverished in pie-in-the-sky hopes of
God somehow magically providing? Faith should be placed in something reliable and rational,

4 Here, I should have given more details about the various factors that went into my original
decision to go into teaching. Specifically, I should have mentioned: my realization that
teachers have soft power, by virtue of influencing, and passing or failing, most future
professionals and leaders; that teaching is not as high pressure a job, nor require as many
expenses, as most positions in business or law; that it doesnt involve difficult physical labor;
that teaching has a public performance aspect to it, given to a captive audience, without
depending on the vagaries of actual show business; and given credit to my highly influential
and charismatic 8th grade social studies teacher, Mr. John Wiggart, who regaled his junior
high schoolers with tales of historically important incidents of sex and violence.

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not in this lofty nonsense. Yet the text is worthy of more analysis than can be made at first
In the West, the cultural heroes are the rich and famous, people who are glamorized as
worthy of emulation. Yet the security of success and money does not, on closer examination,
bear the happy, fulfilled, balanced individuals one might expect. Indeed, trouble abounds in this
gilded paradise. The lives of societys successful are plagued by a curious insecurity. Broken
or troubled marriages, histories of divorce, dependence on psychotherapy, addictive behavior
all are commonplace. Mainstream Western culture seems tormented by self-doubt, unable to find
contentment, and forced to compensate for a feeling of inner inadequacy with an endless
hierarchical paper chase.
On the other hand, there is the brave minority, outside of mainstream values, who might
be called servants. The media pays them scant attention, their lives seemingly neither enviable
nor glamorous. The list includes a Princeton graduate who runs a hotel for the homeless in
Chicago; health workers who have left high paying careers to work in rural Mississippi; and Red
Cross workers in war-ravaged countries in Africa and Eastern Europe. These servants possess
qualities of depth and richness simply not found in the conformists to Hollywood, Wall Street, or
middle class America. More to the point, they enter with confidence into the worst crime-ridden,
gang-infested areas where others would only go by force. A halo of protection does indeed seem
to surround these brave souls. Within societys servants, rather than within its masters, there is

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power. Suddenly, Jesus words ring true with surprising force (regardless of ones feeling about
understanding him historically or religiously). 5
I confess, with some shame, that I do not yet have the faith, nor the courage, to follow the Gospel
philosophy that I obviously admire. Yet teaching, being underpaid and other-focused, rather than
lucrative and self-focused, is one of the few secular careers in the appropriate direction. I cannot
more honestly describe my teaching philosophy and my motivation for becoming a teacher.6

5 The previous two and a half paragraphs were, and largely still are, my sincere feelings; yet
I should point out that this interpretation of the story of Jesus and the rich young man, and
several of the examples I cite here, come from the book The Jesus I Never Knew by Christian
writer Philip Yancey, which I had read circa 1996, less than two years before I was given this

6 Were I to write a description of my teaching philosophy and motivations for

becomingand now staying inthe teaching profession today, I would abbreviate
the elaborations on the Gospel (which come off to me now as somewhat
tangential and a bit high-handed), and focus more pragmatically on a balanced
discussion of teachings advantages and disadvantages (Pro: much more vacation
time than can be found in most private sector jobs; Con: teaching is a bit too
comfortable, a bit too steady of paycheck, such that it is too easy to put off
dreams of pursuing a career as a professional novelist until an ever-receding
someday; Pro: working with youth keeps you feeling young, fresh, and away
from typical adult corruptions, both petty and egregious; Con: working with
administrators and within teacher union politics makes you feel old, frustrated
and drawn into typical adult corruptions, both petty and egregious.)