3.19.10 – Rick D. Niece, Ph.D. – I have truly enjoyed each position, and to this day I have never been heard to say, “I am going to work.” I always say, “I am going to school.” The subtle, yet pronounced distinction between those two statements speaks volumes

By Rick D. Niece, Ph.D.

    I love being an educator. Education is an amazingly rewarding career, and I cannot imagine doing anything else. My range of opportunities in this great profession has been broad and comprehensive:  high school teacher, public school administrator, university professor, dean, provost, and president.  Being able to influence so many lives is a reward beyond compare.

    I have truly enjoyed each position, and to this day I have never been heard to say, “I am going to work.”  I always say, “I am going to school.”  The subtle, yet pronounced distinction between those two statements speaks volumes.  Teachers are able to make a profound difference in the future of this nation and the world, and we should respect what an exalted and exhilarating honor that is. We are privileged to be teachers and leaders in a process that transforms lives, changes communities, and influences future generations.  

    Colleagues often ask for my perspective on a variety of educational issues. I respond that I find it difficult to encapsulate any truly useful insights into a few epigrammatic statements. Then I proceed to do just that.

    My responses are no longer spontaneous, but careful thoughts that have crystallized over the years into a creed. As a president who still teaches, I remain a teacher at heart.

    Trust the Human Spirit

    Eliminate Unnecessary Committee Work

    Accept Responsibility and Act Responsibly

    Care About Students

    Have Fun and Enjoy Being an Educator

    Exhibit Occasional Fallibility

    Respect This Profession

Trust the Human Spirit

    The world is filled with mistrust and suspicion.  I find that who we believe in is as important as what we believe.  We need to have more faith in one another and in the innate kindness of the human spirit.  Educational settings should be communities of trust and curiosity, not factions of controversy and mistrust.  I am sometimes accused of being naïve, and that may be true.  I prefer, however, to be encircled in my naiveté than to become entrenched in the negativity of others.  The positive encourage; the negative obstruct.  Positive teachers make a difference, and they believe in the goodness of others.  That is the joy of being a teacher and the pride of being in education.

Eliminate Unnecessary Committee Work

    Too many worthy projects for schools, classrooms, and students die a slow death within a committee’s stranglehold.  Although committee work is an essential part of any educational setting, a more expedient process sometimes serves the purpose better.  Do not be afraid to replace ineffective committee meetings with more proactive decision-making strategies.  I am reminded of the story about the road that leads to Heaven.  Several miles past the clouds, it forks.  The road to the left has a sign that reads, “To Heaven,” while the sign on the road to the right reads, “For the committee discussing Heaven.”  Which path would you follow?

Accept Responsibility and Act Responsibly

    Teachers are looked upon as leaders in the school district and local community.  Students, parents, and community members seek our advice and expertise.  Respond positively and enthusiastically.  Remember that teachers are public ambassadors for school districts everywhere and, as such, are constantly under the microscope.  We must represent ourselves and this profession responsibly, wherever we are and in whatever we do.

Care About Students

    Being prepared for each class is not enough. Teaching the very best every day is not enough. Taking pride in student success is not enough. We must also care about students—all students.  Students need intellectual influence and sincere encouragement.  Substitute parent, supportive friend, insightful mentor, disciplinary taskmaster, and trusted confidant are the various roles educators assume.  But in each role at each time, we must care about students.  When we stop caring, we stop deserving the sacred title of teacher.

Have Fun and Enjoy Being an Educator

    Everything we do in this profession is for students.  We enhance student success by working cooperatively with one another and with our many constituencies: students, faculty, staff, administration, parents, and the local community.  We should enjoy what we are doing, and we should respect one another while doing it.  Collegiality and cooperation are powerful forces.  When we do not passionately enjoy being educators, we lessen the enjoyment for everyone else.  Worst of all, we risk wasting a career and the opportunity of a lifetime.

Exhibit Occasional Fallibility

    Even teachers make mistakes.  The biggest mistake is not admitting them, especially when they are blatantly evident to everyone else. Share them, laugh about them, and learn from them.  Others already have. To be fallible is to be human.

Respect This Profession

    Education is the greatest profession in the world.  Where else can one person accomplish so much for so many?  The feelings of achievement and satisfaction are lifelong and life sustaining. We have the opportunity to enlighten, to enrich, to influence, and to prepare a future. Be a role model, establish the standard, and set the pace for learning. Students deserve no less.  Education needs quality educators. And the longer I am in education, the more I realize how much I need this profession.  

Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., author of The Side-Yard Superhero, currently serves as the President for the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark. He, along with his wife Sherée, work to provide intellectual and cultural enrichment for the 675 students of the University, preparing them for graduate school and professional employment success as well as establishing lifelong values. For more information, please visit www.RickNiece.com.


  1. Victoria M. Young

    Dr. Niece,

    On this day, in which I have read too many negative things about our education system, I am so lucky to have found your inspiring words. You remind me why I fight to leave a functioning public education system behind for my children and future generations. It is because they are places where children will come in contact with caring adults like yourself and others whom, I'm sure, you have taught well. Thank you again.

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March 19th, 2010

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