“Those who can, teach; those who can’t, make up laws about teachers.”

Teachers, let’s reclaim our difficult and rewarding vocation!

A vocation is a calling to and from the heart of an individual.  A profession can be a vocation as well but can also be a choice made from different criteria. A vocation cannot be denied; it burns in the heart and soul of a person and cannot be quenched until it is answered, whereas a profession can be chosen based on family demands, income, status, or location.   Certainly a vocation can be fulfilled through a profession.  Consider social workers, ministers, and doctors.  These professions we recognize as vocational callings.  It is a wretched thing to meet a professional in these fields who is not vocationally called!  There is an idealism that flames in a truly vocationally called professional.  Without that spark, that inner light of purpose, it’s hard to trust or believe that a person is or was ever vocationally motivated.

More than any vocation, teaching is a profession that calls to the heart of an individual.  It is rare to meet a teacher who does not explain that she or he wanted to be a teacher to help children, or to change the world through teaching children, or to give back what was received from a teacher, to be a hero to others as teachers were heroes to them.  Perhaps this heightened sense of vocation is because, in our culture, additional rewards for teaching are difficult to find.  The rewards are not income and status as it is in some other vocations, or as teaching is in other cultures.

In recent developments, teachers have been reduced to highly scrutinized, criticized agents pushed toward goals which are established by policy makers who have never taught.  Teachers are portrayed as  “in the way” of technological advances and superior knowledge.  Our culture does not trust teachers but watches them like  police watch miscreants!  Testing must be frequent and rigorous to demonstrate that a child is learning what exterior forces decide must be learned. If testing scores are not adequate, teachers are branded as “failing” and punished financially. (Imagine for a moment punishing a doctor financially because a patient died after surgery, or firing a research scientist for not discovering a cure for cancer by the deadline, or docking a social worker’s pay if, after a counseling session, the client returns to a drug habit!)

In the 1980’s a terrifying report entitled A Nation at Risk appeared, further damaging the public’s trust in teachers, and leading to the first so-called “Teacher-Proof Curriculum.”  This oxymoronic tag ridiculed teachers as part of the problem, as “in the way” of real solutions.  Why did we do this?  Why do we, as teachers, accept it?  Perhaps teachers’ unions erred by adopting tactics like other unions that treat work as interchangeable jobs, not vocations, fighting for fair labor standards for its members.  However, if teachers were acknowledged as the keepers of our most priceless legacy for the future, our children, if we trusted them as vocationally- called idealists, maybe unions would not be needed to ensure fair dealing on teachers’ behalf.

All teachers are vocationally called.  I never met one who was not an idealist.  They all take the continual demotions, ridicule, blame and disparagement, and just continue teaching.  Vocations and idealism are like this – a driving force, a power with which to be reckoned.  In some the idealism is broken by bad treatment or life circumstances.  But most keep right on being idealists in spite of the climate of mistrust and low-valued status.

In recent years, there have been many arguments about education.  In these many arguments, the most important facts may have been lost.  We have been, as a culture, distracted from recognizing what is the essence of good education: the devoted teacher.  Many can tell a story about a teacher who changed their lives, recognized them, gave them hope. Where are those stories now?  Why do we not tell them? Why do we not value them?

Here’s a proposal:  we, as teachers, agree that all these arguments are mere distractions from the urgent need to indentify once more the vocation of teaching.  Ignore the distracting insinuations that private school teachers are elitists and homeschoolers unworthy, or that charter school teachers are heroes or traitors and public schools teachers are failures. Let us gather together as teachers and rejoice in our vocational calling, wherever we end up teaching, facing youngsters who were born yearning to learn.  Telling the stories of how deeply that yearning has been buried in this or that child, the damage we see that has been done to many children, the new barrage of illnesses we see in children that were not there even ten years ago.  Let’s recognize each other as courageous planners, developers, observers, waiting for the right moment to gain entry into the enthusiasm of our young charges,

Anyone who has stood before a class of children, responsible for the delivery of truth knows that teaching is not for the faint of heart!  Teaching is a vocation, never a job, never a routine, never a predictable “outcome.”   Let’s gather together in mutual support to clearly state this and re-state it simply because it is true.

Teachers know – as those who have never faced children to teach them cannot.  Teachers know and they know it by heart!

 

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