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Why Mark Smith Feels Called to Adventist Education

Posted on June 30th, 2011

A PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM MARK SMITH, 2011 Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient

My personal interest in pursuing a career within Adventist education and the rewards I have received throughout my teaching career can only be understood in the context of my unexpected entry into the field of education. Near the end of my senior year as an engineering student at a well-respected university, I interviewed with one of the nation’s largest aerospace companies for a masters fellowship program. To my disappointment, I not only was not selected for the opportunity, but the company did not contact me back to inform me of the decision.

During this time in college I was employed 15 hours per week as a youth pastor at my childhood church. My interaction with the teens at church led me to realize that my talents were well suited to mentor teens transitioning into adulthood. Specifically, I found myself able to sympathize with the pressures and difficulties of adolescence and I sensed gifts in areas of forming friendships and mentoring youth in their walk with God. I realized an ability to understand the issues at root of many adolescent struggles and a sense of how to guide those who were growing into young adults.

With the growing realization, coupled with the fact that engineering jobs were not plentiful at the time of my soon coming graduation, I submitted a resume to the local Seventh-day Adventist conference Office of Education. Eventually I received an interview opportunity from Orangewood Adventist Academy in Garden Grove, California, which led to a job offer the next day.

However, just a few days later, I received a call from the aerospace company. The caller told me that my job offer had gone out in that day’s mail! When I queried as to the reason for the excessive delay in notification, the caller stated that there was a note on my file instructing to not contact me until thus-and-so date, which was the day of his call.

Inexplicably, my dream opportunity in engineering had been delayed just long enough to allow for the interview with Orangewood Academy. It was not too late to break free from my commitment with the academy, but in that moment I sensed that the chain of circumstances surpassed the normal course of human events. Although I very much wanted a career in engineering, I told the caller, who was excited to share his good news with me, that I could not accept the offer. He was incredulous as he told me that I couldn’t turn down such an opportunity. However, I felt led and inspired to respectfully refuse his offer again. That day when I turned aside his appeal I sealed my commitment to Adventist education.

Looking back from what is now the midpoint of my career, I do not see how it could be possible to teach for any length of time and not have many poignant and powerful examples of being used by God to touch the lives of children. When I began teaching, I viewed myself as a “teacher.” But I no longer think that “teacher” is the best descriptor of true teaching. I am a minister who uses the opportunity of classroom to make connections with teens, connections that lead to mentoring opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom.

Within the classroom, for example, the subject of a given day might be something mundane such as solving a two-variable equation. But the important lessons for the day are those of character development: dedication to meeting obligations, commitment to work even when perhaps unpleasant, and honesty in presenting work that authentically reflects the student’s own efforts, to name a few. Watching students mature through these experiences is the reward of the teacher.

There is little doubt but that more money can be made in engineering than in education. Also, there is more money to be made in public education than in private education. However, the hope of more money does little to build authentic fulfillment. The deepest fulfillment occurs when you reach a point of sensing that you are following God’s path for your life.

True fulfillment does not derive from a paycheck. For me, fulfillment occurs when you receive a note from a graduating student thanking you for your help and guidance through their high school journey. For these reasons I made the right decision to bypass engineering and dedicate my talents to teaching teens within the system of Adventist education.

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