Do you, or did you, feel called to teaching? What is a “call” and how do you know? What should we teach our students about “call?” These are the questions I want to address with you today.
The “call” for a life path, a career, or similarly consuming part of your life, is not a term that is used very much in everyday life. “I got a new job that I like,” or “I’m am a teacher.” But in one area it is used more widely: when a church “calls” a priest to lead the congregation. It is said also that the priest should feel the “call” to that parish. Last week, I told the story of my grandfather, who because of a violent act against the church where he was a fill-in, he felt called to stay and help. And stayed there for the rest of his life.
But I would like to suggest that our conception of being “called” to our work should be broadened. And that we should teach our students to see their lives that way as well.
The novelist Saul Bellow once said this:
If you ever meet someone and ask them what they do and they say “I’m a writer,” ask them why. They will always give you the same answer: “Because I have to.”
So right there, I think that is part of what being “called” to do certain work means. If you could not imagine doing anything else, if you feel like you just have to do what you do, well, that is probably a sign of a call.
Ideally, I think, we want and should feel called to our work. And not just teachers, lawyers, and doctors, but everyone. You might think, well, a bus driver is just doing a job - that’s never a “calling.” But if you asked, many of them would disagree. They feel they are conducting an important public service because… they are. Police and Fire and EMTs - they are all putting their lives on the line because they feel called, or - if you prefer - even just “pulled” to do the work. While they might not talk about it much, the ones I have known in those jobs do, privately, regularly reflect on its importance to our social fabric as part of their motivation to do the work. Librarian. Garbage Collector. City Water Engineer. Take a moment to think about a job you have thought invisible and merely a job and imagine someone in that job who feels a vocational calling to do that work. Many, even most, do.
I had a mentor who died two years ago - and whom I miss every day - and once I asked him about this. “How do you know you are called to do something?” He said: “Look for patterns.” He meant - are things lining up for you? Do you see it everywhere, in some way or other? Are obstacles to you doing that work disappearing, or are they growing?
This week, Frederick Buechner, died at the age of 96. He was an author and Presbyterian minister who wrote many notable books, often infused with theology. And he wrote movingly about life and one’s life work. About call, he said this:
You are called to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep need, meet.
If you have not heard that quote before, it is worth reading again. (Go ahead, I’ll wait).
For teachers, I think most of us have this sense of being called to the work. To enjoy it - most days - on the level of deep gladness. And, of course, the world has a continual deep need for teachers who feel called to the work. For me personally, I often think of Saul Bellow’s quote - I am a teacher because I have to be.
So if any of this about being called to do certain work resonates with you, did you feel called to teaching? If so, do you still feel that way? Please leave a comment below. I hope we can get a discussion going about how “call” works for teachers.
The next question then is how do we help our students to feel that way about the work they are with us preparing to do? That is the subject for next week’s newsletter. If you have ideas about that, please also add them to your comment, I would love to hear them.
Letter of Recommendation
If you would like to know more about the concept of “Call” I can recommend Robert Hutnut’s book Call Waiting. It describes the many ways that a “call” can come to you. (I have only written about a couple of them here).
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from Frederick Buechner:
Listen to your Life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and the gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
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I agree. So many roles in education are a calling. It could be the school crossing patrol, the teacher, the midday service team (we used to call them dinner ladies!). I'm not a teacher in the classic sense, but a trainer, and for me it's definitely a vocation.
I think it's this calling that keeps people in education even when they have to spend their own money to equip their classrooms, or have to deal with the anger of parents who can't countenance their beloved children ever doing anything wrong.
Sometimes I think this vocation can be used against people who work in education who deserve better. It's easy to take advantage of people who you know have such a heart for their job that it will take a LOT for them to leave.