Reflections on teaching and vocation

Mr. Rogers once said that teaching is nothing more than having something you love and loving it in front of other people.

That is a romantic definition and one that appeals greatly to me. But I worry that it hampers the development of my own sense of vocation in my teaching.

I teach writing to business students. For nearly all of my adult life, I’ve worked jobs that in one way or another revolve around words. I love reading and writing.

But my students – for the most part – do not love words. They are not at business school to develop a deep sense of the magic and power of language. A Wendell Berry essay on poetry that I read with glee would leave them perplexed and maybe even angry.

They are here in my class to get through a hoop and to pick up some skills that may help them achieve their goals in life, which mostly have to do with getting a good job when they graduate. Their interests are strictly utilitarian.

And that has been a source of hostility for me. They do not share my love and that hurts. If I am honest with myself, this is only deepened when I realize that they do not love me all that much either. (How much more suited to my ego was the job of pastor where people always were so grateful to see me and proud to invite their friends to come hear me preach.)

But here is the rub. God says love my neighbor as myself. It may not be a bad thing to love words, but it is a bad thing to love those words more than the young men and women sitting in those desks each day. It is a bad thing to harbor resentment at them for not sharing my love.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20, NIV)

I have been plagued for some time by a lack of sense of vocation in my work. But I am coming to wonder whether that is a function of misplaced love.

I am far from a sense of resolution to this. I have no prescription for others. I share these thoughts here because I assume I have brothers and sisters out there who also struggle to fit their sense of vocation into the lives they are living. I write this to say, for what it is worth, “You are not alone.”

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8 thoughts on “Reflections on teaching and vocation

  1. I don’t think many students today are going to love any subject the way the instructor does. I see what you describe in many of the chemistry students that I have taught in the past few years; the prevalent attitude is I want to get through this course and I want to get an A and anything that doesn’t allow me to achieve those two goals means that you are a lousy teacher. To a student, they fail to see, even when we point it out to them, that they are in this particular class because the skills and ideas presented will make the goal they seek reachable.

    We have so conditioned our students to see each class (and forgive me for what I am about to write) as just another brick in the wall. And when it is all done, they have this wall which insulates them from the world in which they must live. And then they begin to wonder what life is about.

    Remember that the teacher that we follow and who commanded us to make students of those who heard our words was also many times frustrated that his students, two of whom were business majors, didn’t quite get the love that was in the message. But when the lesson was completed, the disciplines understood what the lesson was about.

    In more ways than one, keep the faith John. That will allow the love to grow.

    In peace,
    Dr. Tony

    • Thank you, Tony.

      I am worried what your analogy means for my future, though. A tough student evaluation is easy compared to getting flogged and nailed to a cross.

      • I thought about that when I wrote it. Considering some of the evaluations that I have received, a flogging would have been welcomed. But in the end, we are not called to make such sacrifices; we are called to show the love that we have in ways that express what we love and do, be it in the classroom or the church.

  2. Parker Palmer says that our vocation exists where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. I used to worry that this advice might be self-indulgent but I’m learning that God created each of us the way we are for a reason and to ignore what we are passionate about is to risk missing our vocation. ISTM that this blog is one manifestation of your passion. I’m constantly amazed at what you write.

    • I thought it was Buechner who said that. They probably both agree at any rate.

      Thank you for your kind comment about the blog; although I have to admit I had to go look up what “ISTM” was short for.

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