Education

Teaching is Not a “Calling”

I often hear teaching referred to as a “calling,” particularly by teachers with religious leanings who realize how much difficulty and commitment is involved in this job. I take issue with this, and this is why:

First, it implies a religious belief. To be called, there must be someone (or something) doing the calling. This is generally inferred to be a god of some kind. Most professions are not referred to as “a calling.” How many accountants or customer service representatives say they were called to be in that job? The two I most commonly see described as a calling are religious occupations and teachers. As a secular teacher, being told that I was “called” to do my job by a higher power is, at the very least, somewhat insulting.

Second, calling teaching a “calling” makes a huge assumption about this career. Namely, that it is a divinely given talent. If it is a true talent, that would mean that teaching can’t be taught and anyone with an interest in teaching who wasn’t born with all the requisite skills could not be a good teacher. Thinking of teaching as a talent as opposed to a skill makes teacher education rather pointless and we would expect to see no difference in those who show early aptitude in teaching compared to those who finished teacher school and succeed in teaching well. This is not the case.

To be a great teacher, I find that there are two main requirements: skill and passion. If you have an unlimited amount of passion and a complete lack of skill, you aren’t going to be a great teacher. On the other hand, if you have all of the skill but lack the passion, you may succeed in teaching but you aren’t willing to go above and beyond the basic job requirements and give the level of commitment that (I think) students deserve. When teaching gets denigrated to a “calling” it minimizes the importance of skill. I have known teachers who were incredibly passionate about their jobs, and yet were absolutely terrible. Claiming they were “called to teach” became an excuse for continuing in a job they loved while doing a tremendous disservice to their students.

Third, this nomenclature is an affront to those who teach yet do not feel they were called to do so. In a discussion with my family during my first year of teaching, I mentioned that I felt I was absolutely in the right profession. Teaching just felt right, and I was incredibly happy to be doing it. I also have evidence that I possess both the skills and personality traits that make a good teacher, as well as a real desire to be one. (What makes a good teacher is a whole other topic I’m not going to get into in this post.)

I love teaching, and I’m good at it, but I don’t feel that I was “called” to do it. This was a reasoned choice I made, based on my interests and abilities. There are many reasons a teacher may choose to become a teacher, but being “called” doesn’t hold up to close examination. I say we should stop calling it a “calling.”

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Jay

Jay

Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

4 Comments

  1. November 9, 2015 at 11:52 am —

    The corollary here is the idea that if you are working at your “calling,” you shouldn’t care whether you are paid what you are worth, because it’s more than just a job or career to you. This concept seems to pop up a lot more frequently in the pink-collar professions, like teaching, libraries, social work, etc.

    • November 11, 2015 at 5:35 pm —

      Yes, I have heard the “calling” argument used to justify paying teachers poorly, even by politicians. It’s very frustrating.

  2. November 11, 2015 at 4:55 pm —

    Absofuckinglutely.

    While there are definitely people whoare better suited for teaching than others, that initial “talent” may make things easier, but it’s not enough. Solid skills and didactics may not save somebody who simply hates teaching, all the enthusiasm in the world isn’t much good without some good education either.

    • November 11, 2015 at 5:36 pm —

      Exactly. Good teachers really need to be in the middle of that Venn diagram.

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