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News

The Top Ten

The Rev. Daniel R. Heischman, D.D.
August 27, 2010
Thanks to information supplied from PayScale.com, we have the dubious news of the top-ten worst paying college degrees. They are, in descending order:

10. Drama
9. Fine arts
8. Hospitality and tourism
7. Education
6. Horticulture
5. Spanish
4. Music
3. Theology
2. Elementary education
1. Social work

I am hardly surprised by any one of these particular degree-leading-to-profession categories. However, it is striking to take the list as a whole and consider the commonalities.

Most of these professions have a generative quality to them: in other words they tend to serve to help others in some way, particularly the young. Many have a nurturing quality to them, and many are professions dedicated to the healing of the world. So, too, a good many are professions that are going to be crucial to the well-being of our communities in future years. Finally, all of them tend to be pursued because of a love—in spite of the low pay, these are vocations that many are compelled to do because of their love for the challenge and process involved. No doubt, in order to follow these pursuits after college many had to argue with parents or friends over their viability and usefulness.

This time of year, one of the great joys of my work is participating in opening programs for faculty. It is the perfect time to speak with faculties for they return to their schools refreshed and re-committed, while new teachers show both an eagerness and a sobering sense of the weight of what they are going to be doing. Few professions enjoy this type of rhythm. The traditional three best reasons for teaching—June, July, and August!—have not only a potentially relaxing dimension to them but a renewing one as well.

Clearly, and obviously reflected in the top ten listings above, teaching is a highly countercultural activity. It does not reflect society’s surface values, whether that be seen in the compensation or the fact that many teachers live with a lack of respect for their profession on the part of some students and their parents. A teacher’s word is not gospel these days.

But, as with the case with some of the other “top ten” professions, teachers do what they do because of two profoundly important motivations: they love this work and they feel that the work has an impact. There is a wonderful convergence of need and pleasure that few other more financially lucrative professions can boast.

What other profession, I would ask, finds a group such as elementary school teachers coming in early to begin to work on their classrooms, mindful of the educative and stimulating role that the quality of that environment plays in learning. What other profession finds its members coming back sharing stories of their travels over the summer, seeing places that connect with their love of learning and sense of adventure. What other profession is blessed with opportunities to work with young people, over the summer, beyond the classroom, or finds its adherents speaking of the professional development experiences they have had?

There are few more invigorating experiences than to watch a faculty come together for the first time following the summer break. The room is full of lively conversation and reconnection with colleagues. There is a mixture of mild regret (how did the summer go so quickly?) as well as hope (this year we are really going to get this right!). The mood is eager, often tinged with a sense of irony (here we go again!).

That is not to say that there are not the reluctant ones, the teachers who ask themselves if they are really ready for this yet. As one teacher used to remark to me every September, “I could really have used just one more week before coming back!”

In the world of Episcopal schools, we are always busy spotting grace-filled moments, and holding them up as examples of what we are trying to do with our mission. These first days back are moments to relish—and as with all moments of relishing, they pass too quickly. Those who have their eyes open to the miracle unfolding before them are in for a treat!

They also come to realize what truly brings every teacher back each August or September to begin the process all over again. While the financial rewards are modest, there is a sense of what truly matters. We see an assemblage of people who love their work as well as live their work, and how rare is that in our world today? It lies at the foundation of what of most value we have to offer to our students—the liveliness and commitment of our teachers—all of whom are looking for something more in this world than aiming for the top ten best-paying degrees

I invite you to consider and respond to the following question: what joys were you able to see during this precious period of time prior to the beginning of the new school year? Identifying and giving thanks for them may just help us get through some of the challenges we know lie before us.

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