What makes someone want to be a Business Educator?

kesten-cyrilWhy do we Teach?  How did we get here?  What makes someone want to be a Business Educator?

I regularly teach the first year introduction to education course in our teacher education program.  The students come from all disciplines and programs.  They include prospective early childhood teachers, elementary school teachers, middle year teachers, arts educators, French immersion teachers and high school teachers from all the high school disciplines (except Business Education but that’s another story for another day!).

The majority of these students graduated from high school the previous spring and are experiencing their first year of post secondary education.  All of them have applied to and been accepted into one of our teacher education programs.  Given my own circuitous route to teaching I have always been interested in what motivates a young person, or any teacher, to come to this profession.  But beyond that I wonder, as teachers and particularly as business educators what we owe our students at the high school level?  What should we be doing for them?

Understanding our own story and motivations for getting into teaching (and then staying in the profession) is important and allows us to build our confidence and capabilities as we grow into the professional aspects of teaching.  However I think that understanding what we feel we ought to be giving our students goes beyond the self-serving (not necessarily a bad thing) nature of satisfying our own needs but makes us more altruistic, more sensitive to the changing needs to our students, their parents and their communities.

I’d like us to share our stories and thoughts – perhaps through comments to this blog, through other blog entries or perhaps in a totally different venue.  I’ll start with my story – as sordid as it is.

I graduated from high school in 1965 and immediately went on to University.  I went into the Faculty of Science because that’s what we were “supposed” to do.  I was 17, never much of a student and totally uninterested in anything other than my social life.  Somehow I didn’t seem to make the connection between buying the text, attending lectures, taking notes, doing the assignments, studying, and passing the course.  This lack of connection was reflected in my first year transcript – if my memory serves correctly my GPA was 36%.  I figured Science wasn’t my thing so I transferred into Arts.  That was the only change I made.  Attending classes?  Why?  They were boring!  Buying and reading the textbooks?  Why?  They were expensive and not that interesting!  My second year transcript reflected my first year transcript with the addition of a line of information at the bottom.  “You have been permanently withdrawn from this University.”

So what does a boy do?  I was too afraid to head out onto the road (even after reading Jack Kerouac) and my mother wanted me to be a “professional.”  In Canada, at the time, any high school graduate could enroll as an articling student in the Institute of Chartered Accountants (the Canadian equivalent to the American CPA) if you could get a job in a public accounting firm.  It was a five year program with lots of courses and exams, all taken while you worked full time. My starting salary in August 1967 was $90 a month.  I got the job!

So while everyone else was experiencing the summer of love in tie dyed t-shirts, skin tight jeans, and boots with Cuban heels, I was sweating over an adding machine, wearing a white, starched shirt, a suit and laced brogues.

Funny thing – I loved the symmetry of accounting, the mystery of solving imbalances, the puzzle of designing and implementing an audit and many other things about the meat and potatoes of the job – but I hated the standardization, the isolation, the sense of being peripheral, an unpleasant obligation felt by our clients.  But most importantly I missed the kind of social interaction I had experienced at the University.

As dismal as my previous University experience was I had engaged with and learned from many library books, people from different backgrounds and totally foreign ideas.  My mind had been expanded during that time.  And now that I was trapped in the back office of an accounting firm I missed the kind of social interaction that lead to the stimulating ideas and I regretted the missed opportunities in the university classrooms.

So after two years of enduring the life of a very junior articling student at a public accounting firm I began to strategize about how to get back into a circumstance that would allow me to feel myself grow intellectually in a social environment that was stimulating and optimistic about the future.  This last bit – optimism about the future – began to play an important role in my thinking.  As I was trying to figure out why the pleasure I got from being efficient, balanced, accurate, etc. didn’t seem to be enough for me I came to believe that my future as an accountant held more of the same – finish one file and another one appears.  Create one set of financial statements and another one demands to be created. (An aside; I didn’t think much about the possible changes that could come about as I progressed through my career – graduate, partner, comptroller, CFO – nor could I have imagined the revolution created by desk top computing)

I knew I wanted to get back into the University but what would I do once I got there.  And more crucially would I ever be able to convince them to allow me back.  As I worked through my third year as an articling student I was confused, frustrated and afraid.  I sought counselling – which as it turns out was the best move I could make.  I actually approached a counselor at the University who told me he couldn’t work with me unless I was a student.  I talked him into meeting with me once and I told him my story, my interests and my ambition.  I must have been convincing as he agreed to see me.  After a few meetings, career oriented tests and discussions he was very direct with me – you need to become a teacher.

I had two aunts that were teachers but it had never crossed my mind.  I gave it a lot of thought and he and I discussed it at length.  Teaching was an environment where I could be with people, where ideas mattered, where there was an atmosphere of hope for the future, where things changed regularly – if not daily then at least as the semesters ended and began. I finally agreed with him.  Now I was faced with the task of getting readmitted to the University.

This tale is getting long – suffice it to say I got in, became an elementary teacher, realized I was not putting my accounting experience to work and switched to the High School to teach Business subjects and fell in love with both the content (despite the fact that I couldn’t type or do shorthand) and the context of high school.

There’s more to the story – I have been working at a University since 1978 preparing classroom teachers of all sorts – my heart belongs to prospective Business teachers but my circumstances and my skills have brought me to engage with teachers of all types, of all subjects and of all learning levels.

I started this by talking about what brings people to teaching business subjects – love of the content, serendipity, a need to contribute to youth, interest in preparing skillful participants in our economic system, etc. – and then I asked about what obligations we have to ourselves.  Perhaps that is the topic of another blog entry.

Let me finish this entry with an invitation to you.  Share your story.  Share it with your students and share it with the world.  Share it through a comment to this blog or create your own blog to write about your journey as a teacher.  We all have our stories and even if we think our own story is boring or uninspiring I can assure you that someone will find it fascinating and motivating.


About the blogger: Cyril Kesten is a Professor of Education at the University of Regina since 1978.  Prior to coming to the University he was an elementary and high school teacher.  He has a deep interest in personal stories and how they contribute to personal development. Connect with him on Twitter at @kesten or at cyril.kesten@uregina.ca.

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