Teaching is a calling
Farrell concludes that the maxim, teaching is a calling, is too often taken for granted by institutions who try to exploit teacher selfless dedication to their students’ learning. He also states that teacher assumptions can be imposed by others, presumably institutions. Although I can appreciate his efforts for looking out for the interests of educators, I wonder if it’s really warranted.
I am always leery of the use of maxims when forming an argument because it’s too easy to generalize. In order to agree with the point of view, one has to accept the maxim. In this case, many educators may feel compelled to agree with this maxim because most have experienced times when the opposite is true: feeling overworked, underpaid, etc. – teaching which is not a calling but just a job. In other words, it is easy to take a dichotomous look at the teaching profession as either being only a calling or just a job…nothing in between.
If teaching is a calling (or vocation), then there is some force that attracts one to a profession whereby the act of doing the job becomes more important than a salary, the work conditions, the hours, etc. Calling it a force (Robinson calls it one’s element), seems a bit abstract, so let’s just say that a person is interested in the job itself to the degree that the positive aspects outweigh the negatives. Contrast this point of view to a more dichotomous viewpoint that labels teaching as a calling as being all or nothing.
If teaching is a calling is just a subjective (internal) viewpoint of one’s job in assessing the positives over the negatives, then it also cannot be an assumption from some outside source (e.g., an institution or school) imposed on someone else (e.g., a teacher). Of course outside sources can influence how one perceives the positives and negatives of a particular job, but the assumption, given, or maxim that teaching is a calling cannot be passed on to the individual.
Let’s assume that ELT Language School is taking advantage of ELT Teacher A because Teacher A simply loves her job so much that other aspects of the job don’t matter: making money, long hours, etc.
In this example, what matters is who is doing the assuming? If Teacher B, her colleague, is doing the assuming, but Teacher A is happy with the job (the positives outweigh the negatives), then what does it matter? As far as Teacher A is concerned, teaching is still a calling. If Teacher A realizes that ELT Language School is taking advantage of her, then it’s likely that the negatives outweigh the positives and Teacher A as a result is not happy with the job. Teacher A is working for some other reason and not for the joy of it, and teaching then no longer is a calling. Teacher A is not in her element, as it were.
If Teacher A is not happy with her job, is it’s the school’s fault? Certainly there are situations where this might be the case, but I think what is more likely is that Teacher A just has not found her calling. There are possible reasons for this: she does not recognize her calling, she doesn’t know how to find her calling, she doesn’t know how to prepare (or train) for her calling, etc. Robinson might help here.
A calling cannot be designed by those who exploit another’s selflessness. Someone who is acting selflessly is not looking for anything in return, which teachers undoubtedly often do when they feel that teaching is a calling. But teachers who view teaching as a calling also do so in terms of degree, pragmatically accepting the fact that certain positives outweigh certain negatives at any given time – this process is unique to the individual and cannot be assumed by others. If there comes a time when teachers realize that negatives outweigh the positives, then it is up to them to make the decisions necessary to improve the situation; otherwise, it is there choice to live with current conditions (which in this case teaching no longer becomes a calling). The question here then is less about the profession as a calling and more about whether or not teachers are being taken advantage of. But I think most educators know when they are being taken advantage of…perhaps what might be more interesting is to explore what options they have to actually do something about it.