Home' Independence : Independence Vol 32 No 1 May 2007 Contents Much has been written in recent times
on the area of teaching as a vocation
- as a way of life, not just a livelihood.
Here, Dr Leoni Degenhardt, Principal of
Loreto Normanhurst, reflects on a series of
jottings and short articles which emphasise
the sacredness of the role of teacher, and
the sense of privilege and trust which is
given to those whose profession it is to
accompany and to help form the citizens
of the future.
The first inspirational gem comes from Beare,
Caldwell and Millikan, who emphasise the
importance of education for the future of
humanity, and therefore of the role of the teacher:
The education of the young is one of the most
noble enterprises in which mankind is destined
to engage. Our entire existence rests on our
ability to do it well. Our past, our present, and
our future has been, is, and will be shaped by the
quality of our educational activity. So teachers
have an awesome responsibility in the nurture of
future generations. Teaching is not a trade, it is a
calling. It is not just a job, it is a profession. It is
not something in which one engages merely for
self-seeking rewards, but rather for the service
which one can give to those who need and
seek knowledge and skills. Anything short of
excellence either in terms of the input by teachers
or the output of educated people will prove to
be nationally costly, economically inefficient, and
To carry out such an awesome responsibility for
a nation, and for humanity, requires courage and
altruism on the part of teachers. Pearl Buck, in the
following oft-quoted passage, pays tribute to the
courage of teachers in their efforts to elicit the
best from, and unlock the potential within, each
of their students:
Only the brave should teach, the men and
women whose integrity cannot be shaken, whose
minds are enlightened enough to understand
the high calling of the teacher, whose hearts
are unshakably loyal to the young, whatever the
interests of those who are in power.
There is no hope for our world unless we can
educate a different kind of man and woman. I put
the teacher higher than any other person today in
world society, in responsibility and opportunity.
Only those who love the young should teach.
Teaching is not a way to make a livelihood. The
livelihood is incidental. Teaching is a vocation. It
is as sacred as priesthood; as innate as a desire;
as inescapable as the genius which compels a
great artist. If a teacher has not the concern of
humanity, the love for living creatures, the vision
of the priest and of the artist, he must not teach.
Teachers who hate to teach can only have pupils
who hate to learn.
A great and true teacher thinks of the child,
dreams of the child, sees visions, not of himself,
but in the flowering of the child into adulthood. He
thinks of the child first and always, not of himself.
Similar themes are echoed by many of the world’s
major religions. In this passage from one of the
Catholic Church’s documents on the role of the
school and of education generally, the notions of
vocation, of courage and of altruism continue to
It takes courage to be a teacher, and it takes
unalterable love for the child.
The Second Vatican Council gives specific
attention to the vocation of an educator, a
vocation which is as proper to the laity as to those
who follow other states of life in the Church.
Every person who contributes to integral human
formation is an educator; but teachers have made
integral human formation their very profession.2
Thomas Groome also writes from a religious
perspective. He writes of “ultimacy”, the true
purpose of our lives, and therefore of education.
Once again, the term “vocation” is used to
describe the sacredness of the responsibility
entrusted to educators:
It is a sacred privilege and an awesome
responsibility to be an educator. And it may be the
closest we have to a universal human vocation...
American intellectual historian Bernard Bailyn
offered such an expansive horizon with his now
classic definition of education as ‘the entire
process by which a culture transmits itself across
. .. regardless of what teachers teach, they teach
people, and the better they teach the more they
influence the whole person - head, heart, and
hands. To be an educator is to stand on holy
ground - people’s lives. No wonder the Bible
promises that those who do it well, ‘shall shine
like the stars of heaven forever’ (Daniel 12:3).
Consider the worthiest purpose of education as
that learners might become fully alive human
beings who help to create a society that serves
the common good [italics in original].
... there is an ultimacy to such educating; it enables
persons...to fulfill their utmost human vocation with
a horizon that stretches into eternity and toward
the Transcendent. Such humanizing education
seems more likely if educators have an abiding
faith - faith in the worthwhileness of their vocation,
faith in the potential of learners, and faith in the
Gracious Mystery that is ground and horizon of all.3
This notion of growing into one’s humanity
and fullness of being is embedded within Leo
Buscaglia’s understanding of the role of teachers
and teaching. It is a role of constant change as
each person evolves:
As teachers we must believe in change, must
know it is possible or we wouldn’t be teaching
- because education is a constant process of
change. Every single time you “teach” something
to someone, it is ingested, something is done with
it, and a new human being emerges.
In his moving book, Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch
Albom writes of the power for good when a teacher
sees the potential within and assists students to
develop not only their gifts but, especially, their
humanity. The book recounts Albom’s weekly
meetings with a former teacher, who was slowly
dying, and celebrates the wisdom possessed by
good teachers. Such people teach their students
how to live and to understand the meaning of life.
Dr Leoni Degenhardt
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