Uncovering Vocation Series
Uncovering Vocation is a partnership between Campus Ministry and the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg University. Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, a member of the Augsburg community is invited to share a component of their vocation story. It has become a way of building community, becoming reacquainted with one another, and celebrating the diversity of people and vocations that make Augsburg University the beautiful place it is.
In this heartfelt conversation, we will explore the path of discovering and pursuing a calling inspired by a desire to serve and a belief in the goodness of humanity. We will discuss the ups and downs of this journey with empathy and honesty. Moreover, we will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each step and guide individuals toward resources within the community that can facilitate profound realizations.
The first human I ever loved and respected was a teacher. The first human who ever broke my heart was also a teacher. Consequently, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and I never wanted to be a teacher. Although I understand this idea is contradictory, for me, it was as natural as breathing.
While growing up in rural and forgotten Mexico, I always looked up to my father. He was a respected man and a cherished leader in his community. The farmers, artisans, and elder leaders of this rural landscape always asked for his opinions. They trusted him with their children’s education. Yet, at the same time, this caring social leader, excellent teacher, and public intellectual would open a bottle and become distant and careless to his family.
I always needed clarification on this contradiction. How could such a remarkable man be one person in his classroom and another at home? Moreover, how can he always go above and beyond his line of work and demonstrate what Cariño is all about to his pupils? Cariño is this unique word we use as an endearment for any beloved person (e.g., a child, a partner, a student). However, at home, cariño went out the window.
So here I was, a five-year-old admiring a teacher and detesting one at the same time. I often time wished for a teacher instead of a father. Why couldn’t I be one more in my dad’s classroom?
Time went by, and I began schooling, but I was quiet. Beyond quiet, I would say, I was not using my words. I limited myself to observing and trying to make sense of everything. No one really cared if I learned or not; my first teacher was impatient. She wanted to get me out of her classroom. She took me in only after my mother and grandmother advocated for me. Still, she sat me in the most distant corner where I wouldn’t bother her or any of my peers. It was a frustrating and isolating experience. I even wish I didn’t have to go to school anymore: I hated it!
It wasn’t until my second school year that Magaly came into my life. She was young, energetic, and inexperienced, but most importantly, she wouldn’t take no for an answer and was not ready to give up on me. Thus, with little to no resources, she spent extra time after class teaching me phonics and language. Her lack of skills she patched up with carino. To this day, I am not sure what she did, but she left a profound mark on me. There I was again, admiring another teacher and wanting to be one.
Later, we moved to a big city on the US-Mexico border. I grew up a fairly successful student (Maths aside), wanting to be a teacher until I hit high school. Different factors added up and debunked this teaching nonsense: I was kind of a sports celebrity too good for teaching, the paycheck wasn’t the best, and it was a demanding, stressful career. At least, it was for my high school teachers, who had to bear with guys like me every day. Let me put it this way: I was not a model student.
Consequently, I signed up for Business school. Somehow, this made sense—business-big paychecks. Nevertheless, no one told me that there would be a massive amount of maths involved in the process, and no one talked to me about Accounting courses, Finance, Economics, and so on and so forth. As you might guess, I dropped out. I was miserable. I did not belong there, not my place.
I spent the following years living my life and flying as far as possible from teaching. I buzzed tables, cooked meals, did dishes, and even joined the corporate world as a Walmart associate; I had too many jobs. Remember, I was poor, brown, young, and restless back then. But you know I was constantly experiencing this discomfort. Something was missing, ‘besides the big bucks.” Something was off.
Since I was still brown and poor but not too young and restless anymore, I decided to return to school and better my life. So, I figured it out: I always liked teaching but wanted to be something other than a teacher. And I was good at sports (used to), so why not become a PE? I could train students but not be their teacher necessarily. Yes, I was still running away from teaching.
Years passed, and here I am, beginning my field experience. It was my first time in an elementary classroom in decades. And there he was, this quiet and gentle student with the most gorgeous smile ever. I noticed he did not interact much. He was limited to smiling, even when the teacher or his peers said something awful. Three or two classes later, I asked the host teacher: what about that student? He simply answered, “Never mind him, he is R-word. He is not really here with us.” I was thunderstruck.
It took me a long time to process that. I kept thinking that years have passed, and things have not changed much for us. We are still sitting in the darkest corner of the classroom, trying to get by, being good boys, and not interrupting our peers’ learning. So, I told myself, “I need to stand up, and I need to be on the right side of history.”
From that moment over, I never stopped. I finished my bachelor’s with an emphasis on Adapted Physical Education. Then, I went after my license as a Speech Pathologist, so I completed my master’s. Finally, I got my PhD in Special Bilingual Education with a certificate in Autism.
In conclusion, I shouldn’t be here today sharing with you all, and yet, here I am. After all the defies and adverse lived experiences, I had with the educational system and in my personal life. I ended up caring a little about education, and that was reflected in my whole college experience. I struggled all the way through. I skipped too many classes, and I failed too many courses. It was all a challenge for me because nothing motivated me to put in the effort to be successful and to do more than just get by. Even when I returned for my PE license, I still did not care much about education until I heard that calling from the last row and the most distant corner of a forgotten classroom. Only when I was ready to listen, to listen carefully. That is when I found my purpose.
After that, I started developing all of this work ethic and grit that I never had my whole life. Now I was enjoying it not because it was easier, no it was way more complicated, but because there was something bigger than me driving me. Let me tell you this: there’s something about having a purpose that makes us work harder, that makes the battle worth it, that makes those hours and the energy and the sweat and blood and tears worth it when we have a reason to actually work.
Someone once said, “Don’t follow your passion, but always bring it with you.” We’ve been told that we’re supposed to be passionate about everything we do. That passion is what we should always follow, but you know, the truth is there are a lot of parts of life that we’re not necessarily passionate about. You know passion is a feeling and passion is a great feeling. We should feel it as much as we can, but we’re not constantly feeling it. So, when you follow your passion, it can be difficult because there are those times when it runs out or you’re not feeling it. Then you’re starting to question why am I doing this work, but instead, when you figure out what your purpose is, what actually lights your fire, what’s meaningful to you, what’s worth the effort, what’s worth the energy, what’s worth the blood sweat and tears when we have purpose driving us that makes us overcome anything that gets in our way.
When I think of my calling, I think of an intense why that allows me to withstand any crisis. There was a lot of sheltered becoming a teacher they were all worth figuring out because that why was burning bright, and that why is still burning bright for me. So my question for you today is: What is your why? What is your purpose? What is the thing that drives you most that when you’re not feeling the passion, you still know that there is something meaningful worth chasing after? Then, I would also ask: how can you instill that sense of purpose in the people you work with? How can you foster that in your educators if you’re an administrator? Whether you’re a teacher, how can you foster that in your students, and if you’re a student, how can you foster that in your neighbors? There is so much power in knowing purpose and knowing that the work we are doing is meaningful. That’s why I started caring about special education, and that’s why I became an educator myself, and that is why I continue to be one, because there’s something about purpose and knowing that we have this ability to help, bring dignity, skills, and belief to our communities, to our students that could keep me up at night if I wasn’t chasing after it.
Thank you all.