State Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen reminded a group of educators in a presentation who we were set apart in our mission. She pointed out the gifts that educators have are special talents and abilities. Educators are born for the mission that is being given for us. McQueen emphasized the profession is a special calling.
We are all on a search for significance. We desire to make a difference. Educators are making a huge difference. That is why it is important that we honor them. It is the English social critic, Os Guinness, who said, “Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are, but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be. Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.”
Education of the next generation is one of the most important occupations we could ever do. Belief that one is “called to teach” keeps women and men in education, even with all the unwanted public scrutiny.
Matthew Lynch writes about teaching as a calling, “A calling implies a deep-seated belief that teaching is the only profession that makes sense for you to pursue…” Dylan Fenton, an English teacher and writer does not like the term “calling,” as it creates to him an “idea that good teachers are born, not made and, as a result, allow themselves to stagnate.” I would argue that Lynch is more accurate than Fenton, as a passionate teacher never stops honing their craft. John Hunter, an award-winning teacher and educational consultant wrote: “I used to think teaching was a job. And then I thought it was a profession. And now I’m of the opinion that it’s a calling. It’s a very noble calling.”
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” John Keating, in the movie Dead Poets Society challenged his students to not be resigned to that type of life. Yes, John Keating was subsequently fired and probably never taught another class the rest of his life. However, he taught his students to find their own voice. It was his calling. If you have profession that brings you passion, gives you someone other than yourself to care for, and is something that makes you want to get up in the morning to accomplish, you will not live a life of quiet desperation.
Teaching is indeed an imposing, self-sacrificing, but also a magnanimous calling. Going through the process to get certified, whether through traditional means or an alternative route, is sometimes difficult. The creativity aspect of the profession has slowly been eroded. There is persistent negativity by some lawmakers and the media of public education. Compared to other professions, educators can expect modest salary and sometimes extremely difficult working conditions. However, if you are called to teach, you will never find a happier place than in a classroom or serving students. Educators are set apart to make a difference. There is no other profession, except perhaps the clergy, that can change lives like a public-school teacher.
J.C. Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.