Vocations – balance and the art of happiness 

A brief discussion with Kieran Dhunna Halliwell prompted me to think further on work/home balance in context of vocation. The development of my thinking is also indebted to a presentation I saw Daniel Eglin deliver at Newman University in Birmingham as part of his doctoral study. 

Despite talk of the gig economy, uber teachers and millennials, I still see evidence of vocation in people entering the teaching profession.  Although I am a Catholic who sees vocation as a higher calling that brings someone into a closer relationship with God through specific service, I am writing this in a secular sense of being brought into teaching through a commitment to broadening the life opportunities of young people. To me that means that there is a fundamentally moral motivation to teach to the best of my ability.  Morality is not something I usually feel comfortable with for fear of hypocrisy but in teaching, I can see and talk about moral purpose because it runs through all effective practice. 

In conversation with Kieran, I thought further at the extent to which the moral vocation of the teacher  is exploited by policy makers and, closer to home, SLT to the detriment of the teacher and teaching. 

Increasingly, as local council services are cut, we are acting out a role of society’s safety net because families have nowhere else to turn. The educational support services we need to access for our children are overwhelmed and so our vocation leads us to stretch ourselves ever further. Tanya Byron, in an excellent presentation to the new Chartered College, twice said that teachers should not be doing the work of psychologists but we are increasingly dealing with children who are not safe and whom society will not provide the necessary resources.  

The low retention rate of primary school teachers (a third are now under thirty) is driven by workload. However strong your vocation, exhaustion is a physical reality.  Exhaustion made worse by pernicious accountability systems that create top down pressures that overwhelm individuals even those with strong networks. OfSTED has improved its work significantly in the last two frameworks but we still have previously successful, experienced staff with a strong sense of vocation forced out in response to inspection. An important development to support the vocation to teaching has been the teacher wellbeing networks especially from Jenna Lucas and Kerry Mcfarlane. 

We long ago reached the point where those with a vocation to teaching, think twice before applying for a course. Anecdotes suggest that whilst many entering initial teacher education still have a vocation, there are many who do not and are filling a short gap in life. 

To work in teaching without a sense of personal vocation risks the key elements of: being motivated to continuing to develop professionally; maintaining an open mind and investing time in the depth of reflection that underpins effective classroom practice. 

In talking about work/life or work/home balance we need to think of having a range of vocations rather than the one to our classroom. The vocation to teaching needs to be balanced to our vocation to our family and our vocation to ourselves. Vocation to family means spending crucial time with our children, siblings and, for some, parents. Vocation to ourselves is played out not in a selfish sense but by keeping active and healthy.

 When we lose the balance between our vocations, our families suffer (my children have repeatedly), we suffer as individuals and our teaching suffers to the detriment of the children whose lives are influenced by the quality of our work. 

This half term, I know I need to reflect deeper on how my vocations can be held in balance and how I can model that for others. As a Catholic, I see vocation rather than material consumption as providing happiness in my life. As a teacher, I believe that vocation gives a deep moral meaning to my work. That at times over the years, I have failed miserably, is because I only saw one vocation not many that are interrelated. 

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