Do NOT Follow the Fireman on Career Day — Unless You Have Some REALLY Good Advice

firemanBy Bill Henk – Talk about a harrowing and humbling experience.  Chalk it up to utter madness and delusion.

What was I thinking when I responded to the call from my daughter’s first grade teacher to all of the parents — the one to visit the class to talk about our jobs at Career Day?

In hindsight, I’m astounded by the conceit that would allow me to think that kids would actually care what a dean of education did at work.  Little did I know when I accepted the invitation what the “competition” would be like.

Although I could sort of hold my own with the banker and the pediatric nurse and the court victims counselor, I had little chance with the video game distributor, even less with the hospital transport services worker, and NO chance at all with the fireman who talked about spending big chunks of the day planning and eating meals, before he even got to the really good stuff about fighting fires.

All of the other parents did a great job, and the kids and the teacher found their important work very interesting.  So did I.

The problem for me was that the hospital transport services worker led off, followed by the fireman, and then me.  Both of them dressed in full gear, brought equipment, and had obviously done programs for school children before.  These were professional acts I did NOT want to follow.

Look, I could handle the fact that they both went well over the time allotment we were each given.  But then they each took it a step too far.  Both apologized to the kids — and I am NOT making this up — one for not getting the rescue helicopter to the school and the other for not having the fire truck there!

Oh sure, like it wasn’t bad enough that they had the coolest jobs and could bring gadgets in to mesmerize the kids.  Selfishly I thanked the heavens that those two vehicles did not make the trip.  I was already literally sweating my turn — bigtime.

Marquette pulloverBut when the time came I manned up, walked to the front of the room in the only gear I had — a Marquette pullover shirt — and led with the comment that I wanted to be a fireman, too.  The kids giggled, and apparently that was all the reinforcement and encouragement the entertainer in me needed.

I talked about Marquette and our College of Education, and how I was like the principal of the school and how our faculty were like their teachers.  Adding a little personal relevance never hurts, so I also mentioned the two teachers at the school who were prepared at Marquette and that all of their teachers and counselors went to universities like mine.  The kids thought that was pretty neat.

What really saved me, though, was that my old teaching instincts kicked in.  I explained things in terms the kids could understand and knew what I could say to grab their attention, surprise them, and make them listen, laugh, and remember.  I mentioned meetings with the governor and the mayor, because I knew they were doing a little government study in class.  It helps to have a 7-year old informant feeding me insider information.

And for good measure, I threw in how I knew Buzz Williams and Dwyane Wade and other Marquette basketball players.  Shamelessly, I told them that one of the best parts about my job is that I got to have REALLY great seats at the games.  That fact impressed them most of all!

But the most important thing I said had nothing to do with my job.  I told them that when the time came to decide on a career, they should choose something that they were really good at, and most importantly, something that they loved.  I figured that was the best advice I could give them, because that’s what I really believe.  If that’s all my visit accomplished, then my time was well spent.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that my speaking gig ended well.  The kids were interested enough to ask questions and several commented on the ties that their family had to Marquette.  I left center stage relieved, with my dignity intact, and eager to hear what the remaining parents had to say.

career dayBy the way, the kids were supposed to dress up that day according to what they aspired to be when they grew up.  There were doctors and dancers and athletes and soldiers and chefs and construction workers, and even — you guessed it, a fireman!

For the record, my daughter dressed up like a teacher.  She says that’s what she wants for a career, and that makes me proud — although it’s probably more that she has always liked her teachers and school, and not so much because her daddy is an education dean.

Anyway, later that night, I timidly asked her how I did.  I was just hoping that she hadn’t been embarrassed at how I performed or disappointed that my job didn’t measure up to the others.

She looked me right in the eyes and said with great enthusiasm, “Daddy, you were AWESOME!”

Priceless.

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