A student recently passed by my classroom and asked, “Mr. Chidiac, why are you always so happy?”
I replied, “I love what I do. I love being a teacher.”
She seemed satisfied and went on her way.
I thought further about what she asked and my response. I really am extremely happy and I suppose that people can see it. But where does this happiness come from?
When I was reading one of my favourite books with my students, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, I came across the following lines in the forward:
“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
That’s the answer to my student’s question and I suppose the deeper meaning to the answer I gave her.
This doesn’t mean that being a teacher is the only meaningful work in the world, only that it fulfils my sense of purpose. My neighbour can have a completely different cause and experience the same joy. That which gives our lives meaning is something we can only discover for ourselves.
So what is it about teaching that’s so significant to me?
First and foremost, I see something in each person I encounter that’s great, though undiscovered. In over 30 years of teaching, I’ve never met a person who isn’t a gift to the world. Perhaps the greatest joy I experience is when I meet a former student who’s now an adult. They’re all doing amazing things, often things I would have never guessed; but my vocation is not to guess, it’s to inspire and empower.
Another reason I find teaching so meaningful is I know how important it is for good people to bring healing to a hurting world. My role is vital in letting others know, just as I’ve discovered, that there’s great happiness in dedication to a cause greater than oneself.
As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve been fortunate to be able to teach what’s most meaningful and inspiring to me. Foreign languages, for example, open the world up to my students and promote global understanding. They also allow students to expand their reach in impacting the world, just as they’ve done for me.
I also appreciate the fact that I’m given a great deal of freedom to teach topics that are of great interest to me. For example, in my Social Justice 12 class, we examine the most horrific violations of human rights the world has ever known, yet we see, as Mahatma Gandhi stated, “The way of truth and love has always won.… Think of it – always.”
It then becomes our task to be the voice for this powerful message.
Looking back over the decades of my career, I see how happiness and success are intertwined. I continue to find more opportunities to teach, often without consciously trying. Writing, for example, has allowed me to reach a far wider audience than I could ever contact within the walls of a school. I find tremendous joy in putting my ideas and ideals in print, and I’ve watched my readership continue to expand.
The key then must be to find something to believe in, something we know in the depth of our being will make a lasting, positive impact on the world around us. When we can find this something, the pursuit of which is coherent with our talents and interests, happiness and success are all that can ensue from our selfless efforts.
I’m so fortunate to have found this something. I really do love being a teacher.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.