How Dr. Chris Cody, education executive for the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS, found God’s calling for his life.
At one point, he wanted to be a paramedic. But then maybe becoming a landscaper seemed like a good plan. Then it was sports marketing. That idea had enough legs that he actually decided to enroll in such a program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
The truth is, when he was still in high school, Dr. Chris Cody didn’t know what he wanted to do. The sports marketing path just seemed as good as any. “It’s not like I had a real passion for it,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Well, I like sports and I took a couple of business classes in high school, so maybe I’ll try this.’”
But God had other ideas.
A word from the Lord
One day, in January of his senior year, Cody “just happened” to overhear a classmate talking about going to Concordia University Wisconsin to become a teacher. That path included a generous CUW scholarship for those pursuing church work. Something clicked.
“I thought, ‘Why haven’t I considered teaching?’” he says. “My uncle was a Lutheran Educator. My other uncle was, too.”
It seemed clear that this nudge in the teaching direction was a prompting from the Lord.
“I don’t know what else you could call it,” Cody explained. “I very vividly recall walking down the hall, it was in January of my senior year, and hearing a friend having a conversation about how she was going to Concordia to be a teacher. And that they were offering this professional church worker scholarship.”
So he reached out to CUW, and the next thing you know his entire path had changed abruptly. But he knew very soon that it was the right way to go.
“I was already doing some part-time job in high schools, working with the recreation department in West Allis,” Cody explained. “So I was already working with kids in an after-school setting.”
Still, once he graduated from CUW, some doubt began to creep back in. He graduated in December, and by July, only one school had offered him an interview. He didn’t get the job.
“I thought, ‘Well, I guess maybe God wasn’t calling me to be a teacher after all.’ So I enrolled at Marquette University to get a master’s degree in political science.”
Then God stepped in again. Just a few weeks before school was to begin, a friend and fellow graduate let him know that there was a position opening up at his school—would he be interested? So Cody applied, interviewed, and received an offer to teach eighth grade at St. Peter-Immanuel on the northwest side of Milwaukee. Graduate school would have to wait.
A heart for the city
It was at St. Peter-Immanuel he developed a passion for urban education. And for middle school. Cody had always imagined himself a high school teacher, but something about those 6th, 7th, and 8th graders touched his heart.
“I didn’t realize this until that job kind of fell into my lap, but I love the impact you can make on kids at that level,” he said. “I love the relationships that I could develop with them, and I still keep in contact with a number of those former students.”
God also showed him that he could make a broader impact at a higher level, so he enrolled in a master’s program at Concordia—not in political science, but in educational leadership. He graduated in December 2005. In 2007, he became principal at Mount Olive Lutheran School in Milwaukee.
In 2015, with a doctorate from Walden University (earned in 2010) Cody became the education executive for the South Wisconsin District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. (He’s also an adjunct instructor in the educational administration graduate program at CUW.)
“My job is primarily to work with all of our schools in the South Wisconsin District,” he explained. “We have 52 elementary schools, seven high schools, and more than 20 freestanding early childhood centers. I work to resource all of those schools and work with them on accreditation. I coordinate with their principals on a regular basis and try to visit all of the schools every year. It’s pretty wide-ranging.
“I love to problem-solve and to think outside the box,” he added. “A big part of my job is when a school board or a principal reaches out and says, ‘This is what we’re dealing with, can you help us?’ And then being able to work alongside them to come up with a solution.
“I also like it when they ask, ‘What can we do next? What opportunities are out there that our school or church can take advantage of?’—and then helping them walk through that process, too. I love the relationships and getting to know all the teachers and principals.”
Help wanted—and needed
The biggest challenge the system faces these days is a shortage of qualified teachers. When he was starting out, there were more teachers than jobs. Today it’s the opposite. Part of the problem is simply a messaging issue, he said. That is, there’s a lot of talk these days about what a tough, thankless job teaching can be, and not enough about the positive aspects.
“I think as teachers and educators, we need to do a better job of sharing the joy of our vocation with others,” he said. “A lot of us go into teaching or into church work because someone once told us we’d be good at it. But if you’re a teacher who complains about the job, and you tell a student, ‘Hey, I think you’d be a great teacher,’ they might think, ‘Why would I want to do that? You don’t seem very happy about it.’
“We need to focus more on the joys of the job, and what an honor it is to be a teacher.”
He loves living and working in Milwaukee and the surrounding area, and continues to strengthen his deep roots in the community. He was born and raised in West Allis, Wisconsin, attending St. Paul’s Lutheran School in West Allis and then Martin Luther High School in Greendale. He’s grateful to his parents for the opportunity to attend LCMS schools. “Without their sacrifices, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be influenced by so many impactful Lutheran Christian teachers,” he said.
Cody has lived in Milwaukee since he got that first job at St. Peter-Immanuel. He and his wife, Megan, are active at Mount Olive Lutheran Church. Their older children—James, 8, and June, 6—attend school there. Their youngest, Nora, 2, will go there someday, too.
Even when he’s not officially on duty, the needs of the educational community are always near the top of his mind.
“My wife thinks it’s weird that I just start talking to people about Lutheran schools,” Cody said with a laugh. “But I find a way to ask, ‘Where do your kids go to school?’ And it eventually leads to talking about Lutheran schools.”
He takes a similar approach promoting the teaching profession.
“Whenever I hear someone talking about teaching, I’ll ask, ‘Do you want to be a teacher? Because we can help you make that happen!’ I think we all should be proactive about saying those kinds of things to young people, especially if they’re in high school and maybe they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Because you never know how God is going to work. The words you say might be the ones that turn someone’s life in a whole new direction. Even if they just happen to be overheard in a high school hallway.
Interested in becoming a teacher at a Lutheran School? Learn about the Lutheran Teacher Scholarship program at Concordia University Wisconsin at cuw.edu, or feel free to reach out to Dr. Cody at email@example.com.