Update on 1/19/19: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, can be pre-ordered now. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love it if you helped me make near-death experiences more mainstream.
Outward Focus: In a Ted Talk presentation, Adam Leipzig discusses how happier people are outward focused. After a class reunion at Yale, Leipzig realized that even people with highly successful careers don’t feel the same level of happiness that others do who are clear about their intention to help others. Teaching is a profession that has allowed me to be outward focused on a daily basis. Even if the goal is only to improve students understanding of concepts and improve their critical thinking skills, teaching allows me to focus on others and for that I am immensely grateful. We are happier people in the moments we forget ourselves and live for others.
Many teachers have goals for their students beyond the basic concepts of their subject matter. They hope to help others become more successful, more loving and connected to others, clearer about their goals and dreams, and more prepared to live a happy life of purpose themselves. Perhaps the most important thing anyone can do after realizing what they are passionate about is deciding who they can help, entertain, or inspire with this passion. Taken further, Leipzig explains how it is important to think about what others need.
What Others Need: Before I started teaching, I thought about what I needed as a student and researched what other students from various backgrounds need. As a student, I needed to be noticed. I needed kindness, support, and structure. I needed to expand my thinking and views of the world. I needed inspiration. Sometimes, my students need to learn basic writing skills and to gain confidence as writers. Sometimes, they need a clear path to success, healing from their past, or to expand their ideas and thinking about the world. Sometimes, they simply need to be inspired to work harder and be more focused about what they want to accomplish. Sometimes, they only need kindness, and they will figure the rest of their life’s journey out on their own or with the help of other mentors.
I am certain that I do not meet everyone’s needs as an instructor, but I took an oath to “Do no harm” before ever opening my mouth in a classroom, even as a student teacher at Stephen F. Austin High in Austin, Texas. I saw every rebellious student as a gift. Every angry student who I still occasionally encounter teaches me that fear and pain is what lies beneath the surface of anger. Often, students who are angry have suffered a lot of abuse in their lives. They have every right and reason to be angry, and if I am patient I am sometimes able to uncover this truth. Although some students might prefer a different, style of teaching, I know that my students know my heart is in the right place. My primary aim is to help students become more successful on any path of their choosing. I’ve taught long enough to see many of my students accomplish their goals, and there is little on this earth that gives me more happiness than their accomplishments.
The Light’s Last Message: Before my near death experience, I had very little interest in teaching. When I returned to my body after my NDE and reflected on the fact that the last message given to me from the light was that I must return to earth and teach, I was not pleased. I wanted a more lucrative career as a lawyer since I grew up poor. My long-term plans weren’t final but attending U.T. Law School was a possibility; however, God had other plans for me. If you meet God on the other side of this life and the last thing God tells you to do is to teach, is there really any other option?
After reflecting on my own history with teachers, I realized that I may not have applied for scholarships, applied to U.T. or believed in my potential if I hadn’t had a couple of supportive English teachers in high school. I realized that their enthusiasm for their subject matter affected me in ways I didn’t realize at the time. I read books I would have never found on my own, and my self-concept grew because of their ideas and lectures.
For years, I didn’t understand why the light commanded me to teach, but I followed these orders anyway. I got my teaching certification and taught for four years in the public school system—junior high and high school, and I’ve taught at the college level ever since. I’ve had so much fun on some days that I’m surprised they pay me at all.
Happy at Work: I have been extremely happy at work because I know why I teach. I am not there for my ego or gratification; rather, I am there to help others, or at the very least to be kind and hopefully to inspire them to read more novels and enjoy the writing process a bit more.
Service work with my college students has been a rewarding experience. For a moment in time, they experienced the joy that I feel working with them as they worked with elementary school kids. Perhaps students who participate in service learning will be reminded that a life focused on others is a very good life indeed.
Many programs of recovery focus on service to others, and I don’t think this wisdom should be limited to recovery programs. If everyone could realize that helping others is the quickest and surest way out of pain, we would all drop everything and look out into the world to see who we can help. The mind all too often makes a “hell of heaven,” but when we get out of own mind and focus on the lives of others we can turn an actual world of “hell” into a “heaven” of connection and compassion.
Many Amazing Students: I am humbled by the talent and passion of so many of my students. One of my least favorite times of year is the time of year to give awards. Though I love honoring particular students for their hard work, there are generally many deserving students and picking only one or two students to honor hurts my heart. Often, the highest grade in a class is not the best indicator of who has learned the most and progressed the most.
I am impressed by how many of my students already have energy and passion to help the world. They organize walks to bring awareness to issues such as suicide prevention, particular childhood diseases, or write stories which are a form of activism. They have clear goals for their future and intend to help others long before entering my classroom. They have energy, passion, and drive that reinvigorates my own drive and enthusiasm. They are sometimes more like friends than students, and I miss them when the semester ends. I am a lucky, lucky woman to have crossed paths with so many wonderful people. The light certainly knew better than I did about the direction that my life should take. Teaching has been one of the brightest parts of my life, and I am grateful for all the students I have met over the years.