Judging A Professions Greatness

Does Salary Determine Wealth?

In the 1700's, during the founding of what would become later the United States, the Puritans wanted to create a community or a commonwealth for future generations to emulate or look up to, a model society; one of the governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, would describe it in a sermon as a "city upon a hill." This society was hierarchical and going to church was a priority (one could write it was a "requirement"). Seating at church services, community gatherings, and political discussions was done by levels of societal importance. The closer to the front the more vital to the well being of the Commonwealth (of course one who was wealthy enough could buy their way closer to the front). So who do you ask sat in the front? The minister's of the church, the Governor, then came professionals like lawyers, doctors, elected officials, wealthy entrepreneurs, and also the schoolmaster. Yes, the "schoolmaster" -- the teacher was considered to be one the most vital cogs in the functioning and well being of the society. The teacher was so valued by the community that they were seated with all of the other "important" professions. So how does this relate to teaching today?

Perhaps today the location of where one "sits" at important community events no longer has relevance in advertising for the level of professional greatness. How then does our society measure the value and respect for a profession today? Is it the amount of money earned?

While individual wealth is something to look up to when it is achieved it is most certainly NOT the only factor in judging the importance of a profession. In society today the importance of a profession need not be measured in dollars earned. I submit that this may be one of the least important factors.

The true indicator of the greatness of one's profession is its impact on the well being of society -- not just in the moment but in the future as well. Professional success will always be judged by its contribution to the common good of its people. For example, the person that has the opportunity to affect the most positive change in the United States today is perhaps its President. This profession pays $400,000 annually yet every decision they make affects the lives of over 308 million people. Albeit the teaching profession is not on the same plane as that of the President of the United States in terms of its responsibility but in terms of the lives it can touch it very well may be greater.

On average a teacher in the United States earns $40,000 a year and may impact, depending on their class size(s) over their career, hundreds or perhaps thousands of lives. However, what if one of those students, during that teacher's career was Edward Jenner. Jenner conducted the first experimental vaccination. It was an inoculation with the cowpox virus to build human immunity against the deadly scourge of smallpox in the year 1796. At some point, Jenner was inspired by a "schoolmaster" to pursue his career in science. How many lives were impacted by Jenner’s Schoolmaster? We may compute that number to be ALL OF MANKIND since the late 1790's.

So when it comes time to choosing a career let us all be careful about determining it's worth in dollars -- it doesn't make "cents." Rather let us judge each and every job by its positive effect it will have on the community at large. So for those young adults out there, studying and contemplating what profession you will engage in, consider the GREATNESS of the profession by the quality of life it will create for others. When you find that profession do your job well and if you do your job to the best of your ability each and every day others will come to respect it, but more importantly they will respect you.


Bremer, Francis J. John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father. Oxford Press. c2003

Morgan, Edmund S. The Puritan Family. Harper Press. c1944

Witham, Larry. A City Upon A Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History. Harper One Press.c2007

Originally written 2/28/2011


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