For Josh Miracle ’11 it was the day a returning student—who had been incorrigible the previous year—gave him a hug and said, “You made a difference in my life.”
For DJ Singfield ’11 it came when a seventh grader told him, “My dad’s not here—thanks for being a role model for me.”
For Jacob Pactor ’04 it is knowing that every day there’s a good chance he’ll fail at something, but he’ll get better every year.
For Jonathan Hoke ’03 it was the day his own former teachers and mentors began sending their students in education to do field observations in his classroom.
Four high school teachers returning to campus in April described very different moments that led each to realize that teaching was his calling. What they had in common—in addition a minor from the College’s Department of Education Studies—was passion for their work and the belief that the greatest reward is found not in their own achievements, but in the success of their students.
“True success comes when those you’ve had an impact on become successful themselves,” said Singfield, who teaches social studies and coaches football and baseball at Kingsbury Middle School in inner-city Memphis, TN. “When you’re coming home from work and you know you’ve been doing exactly what you’re supposed to do, that’s success.”
Singfield met with students last Friday, while Hoke, Miracle, and Pactor participated in a panel presentation on April 9. All were guests of Callings, the College’s program to help students explore their vocational identities.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was a junior in high school and looked around the room and thought, I need to do a better job than these people, which is probably about the same time I knew I’d be a good fit at Wabash,” said Pactor, who teaches English at Speedway High School in Speedway, IN. “I also had some great teachers, and I wanted to be like them. I don’t know if there was really a moment I felt called to do it, but I do know there was never a moment I felt called to do anything else.”
Hoke, the principal of Attica Jr.-Sr. High School in Attica, IN, previously taught history and current events at Crawfordsville High School and is the son of educators.
“I didn’t know anything different,” he said. “It was the only thing I thought I ever wanted to do. But, as those of you going into teaching may discover, it can be difficult to earn the respect of students when you’re only 4 or 5 years older than them. During your first couple of years you may think, I’ve made a mistake here. It took a while to get past that. But I loved history, I knew this was the best way to communicate that passion to everyone else, and so as I gained some experience I began to realize that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
“I knew I was doing good for others the entire time, and as I got better at teaching, students were getting more from me. The turning point for me came when my former teachers, Professors Deborah Butler and Michele Pittard, asked if they could place some of their up-and coming education students with me for field experiences. Suddenly I was not only influencing students but also helping young people who were exploring this profession have an opportunity to get their feet wet. That’s what I really enjoyed doing.”
After nine years teaching, Hoke became principal at Attica.
“I feel even more secure than ever that I’m in the right place, that this is my calling,” Hoke said. "I don’t question it for a minute, even when things get really tough.
“I’m a warrior for public education. The last couple years were pretty tough on public education in Indiana, and helping to keep the morale up for that group of people is important.”
Both a coach and a teacher, Josh Miracle recalled the teacher who first inspired him.
"I grew up in Hobart, IN, and my dad wasn’t really in the picture; that was something I struggled with growing up,” said Miracle, who teaches psychology, economics, and history at Westfield High School in Westfield, IN.
“It wasn’t until the last year in high school that someone stepped into my life—Donald Rogers, my math teacher—and he was willing to go out of his way, even when I wasn’t doing well in his class, he still took an interest. He showed me that he cared."
Working his second year at a Christian sports camp during his Wabash days, Miracle was surprised when a returning camper, who had been among the most difficult the previous year, gave him a hug and said, “You made a difference in my life.”
“I didn’t know Brad that well, yet I’d had an impact on his life,” Miracle said. “I was given that opportunity because I was called to do this. A calling is making a difference in someone’s life; a calling is different than a career. It’s a deeper purpose.”
“A calling is connected to growing,” Miracle said. “For me, that growth is God-centered, it refines me, and it’s an opportunity to serve.
“That’s what I love about education—there’s a new set of issues coming at you everyday. The way each student learns is different, and I need to try to figure that out if I’m really going to make a difference in my students’ lives.
“When you’ve really found your calling, it’s no longer about you. It’s about everyone else, and that’s kind of a relief. In our culture today, people are more narcissistic than ever. But when you serve others and you see that impact—oh, it really means something.”
Singfield began his talk, "What Is Success?" paying tribute to Wabash Professor Tracey Salisbury, who he called “the first professor I didn’t just learn from, but was inspired by.” He expressed gratitude for the practical experience he received from the Department of Education Studies’ week-long urban immersion in teaching in Chicago. He talked about the Memphis Teaching Residency program that paid for his master’s education in exchange for his teaching at Kingsbury Middle School, and he spoke of the middle schoolers who “taught me more about being a man in one week than I’d learned in my entire life.
“A lot of these kids have to raise themselves,” Singfield said, recalling a group of boys there he taught how to tie a necktie. He remembered one student telling him, “My dad’s not here: thanks for being here for me.”
"I'll live off that for a long time,” Singfield said.
Education Studies Professor Michele Pittard, who taught all four men at Wabash, was moved by their presentations.
“Our greatest reward as teachers is the success of our students, so I felt an incredible sense of pride as I watched Jacob, Jonathan, Josh, and DJ,” Pittard said. “They were impressive and accomplished students while at Wabash, and they have become impressive and accomplished educators in their own right.
“DJ may have said it best when he was describing what he feels when his students succeed. He read a letter from a student who wanted him to know the impact he’s having on her life, and he said his heart was full because of the success of his students. So, too, is mine. Seeing DJ and the other guys last week talk so passionately about teaching and hearing them convey so convincingly how gratified they are because of the positive influence they have on young people makes my heart full because of their success.”