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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

The Best Career There Is

by Rick D. Niece

I love being an educator. Education is an amazingly rewarding career, and I cannot imagine doing anything else. My range of opportunities in this great profession has been broad and comprehensive: high school teacher, public school administrator, university professor, dean, provost, and president. Being able to influence so many lives is a reward beyond compare.

I have truly enjoyed each position, and to this day I have never been able to say, “I am going to work.” I always say, “I am going to school.” The subtle, yet pronounced distinction between those two statements speaks volumes. Educators are able to make a profound difference in the future of this nation and the world, and we should respect what an exalted and exhilarating honor that is. We are privileged to be teachers and leaders in a process that transforms lives, changes communities, and influences future generations. As a university president who still teaches, I remain a teacher at heart.

Colleagues often ask for my perspective on a variety of educational issues. I respond that I find it difficult to encapsulate any truly useful insights into a few short statements. Then I proceed to do just that. Here are a few careful thoughts that have crystallized over the years.

Trust the human spirit. The world is filled with mistrust and suspicion. I find that who we believe in is as important as what we believe. We need to have more faith in one another and in the innate kindness of the human spirit. Educational settings should be communities of trust and curiosity, not factions of controversy and mistrust. I am sometimes accused of being naïve, and that may be true. I prefer, however, to be encircled in my naiveté than to become entrenched in the negativity of others. The positive encourage; the negative obstruct. Positive educators make a difference, and they believe in the goodness of others. That is the joy of being a teacher and the pride of being in education.

Eliminate unnecessary committee work. Too many worthy projects for schools, classrooms and students die a slow death within a committee’s stranglehold. Although committee work is an essential part of any educational setting, a more expedient process sometimes serves the purpose better. Do not be afraid to replace ineffective committee meetings with more proactive decision-making strategies.

Accept responsibility and act responsibly. Educators are looked upon as leaders in the school district and local community. Students, parents and community members seek our advice and expertise. Respond positively and enthusiastically. Remember that teachers are public ambassadors for school districts everywhere and, as such, are constantly under the microscope. We must represent ourselves and this profession responsibly, wherever we are and in whatever we do.

Care about students. Being prepared for each class is not enough. Teaching the very best every day is not enough. Taking pride in student success is not enough. We must also care about students—all students. Students need intellectual influence and sincere encouragement. Substitute parent, supportive friend, insightful mentor, disciplinary taskmaster, and trusted confidant are some of the various roles educators assume. But in each role at each time, we must care about students. When we stop caring, we stop deserving the sacred title of teacher.

Have fun and enjoy being an educator. Everything we do in this profession is for students. We enhance student success by working cooperatively with one another and with our many constituencies: students, faculty, staff, administration, parents and the local community. We should enjoy what we are doing, and we should respect one another while doing it. Collegiality and cooperation are powerful forces. When we do not passionately enjoy being educators, we lessen the enjoyment for everyone else. Worst of all, we risk wasting a career and the opportunity of a lifetime.

Exhibit occasional fallibility. Even educators make mistakes. The biggest mistake is not admitting them, especially when they are blatantly evident to everyone else. Share them, laugh about them, and learn from them. Others already have. To be fallible is to be human.

Respect the profession. Education is the greatest profession in the world. Where else can one person accomplish so much for so many? The feelings of achievement and satisfaction are lifelong and life-sustaining. We have the opportunity to enlighten, to enrich, to influence, and to prepare a future. Be a role model, establish the standard, and set the pace for learning. Students deserve no less. Education needs quality educators. And the longer I am in education, the more I realize how much I need this profession.
Niece, author of The Side-Yard Superhero, is president of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark. For more information, please visit



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