"This dude's a down brother," Reg said. "This cat is the hero of educators all over the U.S.!"
I had lunch in my honor at the NEA headquarters today, and the president, Reg Weaver, is quite a guy. I sat next to him and watched him open approximately a dozen packets of sugar and pour them on his plate of rice. Only rice. He then hopped up to introduce me, referred to me as a "cat" more times than I have ever previously been compared to a feline, and then gave me a great big bear hug while infecting everyone in the room with his cackling belly laugh. Wow! It didn't surprise me when he told me he is a former middle school teacher. Although all the pictures of him I've seen are pretty serious looking, he's a kick in the pants!
After the lunch, and after my remarks, we had an informal session of Q&A around a table. A woman asked an interesting question about her own daughter. The young girl, an 8th grader, has done very well in math and science, but her mom was considering a tutor for this summer. "Why?" I asked. "Just to get her more prepared for her future, so she can get a good job," she replied.
I then felt compelled to ask the most important questions we should be asking all of our students: What is she good at? What does she want to do? "She's a talented artist. She really enjoys graphic design."
Why do we hang onto the idea that math and science will continue to provide the best jobs of the 21st century? If she's doing well in those subjects already, why not encourage her to follow and value her own passions and talents? Truly creative people will be worth a great deal in the financial and cultural economy of the 21st century. Sure, we need mathematicians and scientists, but they better be able to think creatively and globally! Not to mention the fact that if you're not passionate about what you do, you'll burn out quickly. My career path to becoming a teacher is a testament to that fact.
So I gave her the best advice I could think of to give to her daughter (inspired, of course, by Napoleon Dynamite's words to his friend, Pedro). "Just do what I do... follow your heart."