Pursuing the Ideal: My Raison D’Etre

“Seek what is above.” (cf. Col. 3:2)

Statistically, many teachers quit the profession within five years of service. Considering that I’m entering into my fifth year of teaching, I remain grateful that I’ve overcome the odds stacked against educators. Why the chronic fallout? An intriguing article from Australia-based company Createl Publishing, which markets teacher and student planners, enumerates reasons such as “low salaries,” “problematic parents and student behavioural [sic] issues,” and, most vexingly, “a lack of support and lack of respect resulting in high stress.” If anyone had a reason to leave the classroom behind, this last sentiment captures the essence of my experience. So, in the spirit of encouraging my fellow educators, I offer you this personal vignette.

Before the onset of the 2020 pandemic, the Circe Institute graciously published a reflective piece of mine about the struggles I faced in attempting to root myself in a classical school. It was the year I found myself partaking in an unplanned “sabbatical” after resigning from, at the time, an insolvent institution. As my graduate school program came to its conclusion and the first panic wave of the coronavirus abated, I chose to accept a teaching position at a brand-new high school in the Pacific Northwest. “Why not?” I reasoned, “The other two schools you taught at were well-established but financially unstable.” What I didn’t anticipate in my venture was not a monetary attack on my job security but a personal one…

He was twice my age. He contested my dearest convictions. And he almost bested me. After weeks of striving to placate my headmaster’s expectations, he told me, in front of our kindly HR moderator (present by his request), that his objective was not to pursue a classical identity for our school that advertised itself as such, but to create “joy.” Arriving back at my apartment, my frazzled person lit upon the title of a book, Rejoicing in the Truth (cf. I Cor. 13:6). We cannot have joy apart from love that embraces what is true. And I believed (and still do) in the ideal I expressed in my undergraduate senior capstone speech: namely, that the end of education is the cultivation of love and that classical education achieves this.

Several weeks later, I was listening to an interview about John Senior while engaging in a mundane Saturday morning bathroom cleaning. The interviewee, Dr. Jared Staudt, mentioned Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Classical School in Denver and how he had helped guide its philosophy. I noted the name for later inquiry, and typed up a “cold-email” to the school president, Mrs. Rosemary Vander Weele, describing how I had heard of the school, that I believed we shared a similar vision, and that I would love to have a conversation. As it turned out, my first interview was with Mr. Andrew Beach, Head of Lourdes South Campus, who had read my original Circe article and remembered my piece!

Soon things progressed so that I was invited for an in-person visit in early May of last year. By this time, my teaching contract was not renewed. Perhaps the final straw for my headmaster, who is no longer leading the school I left, was that I refused to arbitrarily raise a particular student’s grade for a take-home quiz at his injunction (although I offered that the student could re-take it). My heart was bleeding as I faced the prospect of leaving my beloved freshmen class, but grace prompted me to be open and not harden my heart. When disappointments come, you either chose to embrace life or become embittered.

Long story short, I am happy to be rejoining the middle school faculty at Lourdes for another year of pursuing what is True, Good, and Beautiful. Our Head of North Campus, Mrs. Tamara Whitehouse, has my respect and loyalty, for I know she cares about me as a person and not merely as an employee. The soul quickly revives if you admire and want to imitate your leader. And since I’ve gained some permanency in my present position, it has been delightful to contemplate how I can love my students long-term in my work as an educator. Currently I have plans for how I want to incorporate commonplace journaling in the classroom to foster richer discussions and help my students gain poetic knowledge.

Ideals have seen me through my early career as a teacher. They give one resiliency. In my personal reading, I came across the reason why:

“An ideal is something great. It is essentially felt to be something greater than one’s self. It is something whose sheer force of beauty and nobility makes a person want to get away from himself, to forget himself, so as to defend, to admire, to love, and to serve that ideal, and strive upward toward it. A person with an ideal is ready to live for it and, if necessary, even to die for it.” (Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness, revised edition, p. 143)

Taking the trouble to pursue beautiful and noble ideals as a teacher? There are many worse reasons to be.

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