Vo-ca-tion: ”A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation”.
My students ask me sometimes why I chose to become a teacher. Their intonation and their posture hints at a different phrase: “Why in Heaven’s Name would Anybody want to consider becoming a Teacher?!” And boy, do I understand where they are coming from. When I was their age I couldn’t dare imagine teaching a bunch of disinterested, unmotivated, know-it-all adolescents like myself. “You should become a teacher,” somebody said to me then, and that remark alone made me want to walk away indignantly huffing.
So why did I? After an internship in the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sciences in my third year in linguistics, I found out that linguistics is practiced inside a room, thinking. A linguist could sit inside a room thinking about language structures all day, because the object of his study is his own language faculty. Sometimes linguists do fieldwork, but usually they have minions do the fieldwork for them, while the linguists are cooped up, crunching data. Data that could possibly lead to stunning results, but were more likely to generate a need for more data. Suffice to say, after three months of social isolation in the name of science, I craved another human being to talk to so much that I changed my career plan.
This still doesn’t answer the question of why I became a teacher, now does it? Call it serendipity, fate, chance or providence, this last minute change of career was not easy. The only course that was still available in my major was in education and I needed the credit. I was assigned to an absolutely wonderful school for my first practical internship with the best teacher coach anybody could ever wish for. I had only taught three full lessons, but my path in life was set when she wrote the words ‘Rhiannon is a natural and we would love to welcome her back when she finishes her studies’. It turned out I was good at making contact and motivating students.
So far, no regrets. This job has literally taken me from East to West and enriched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Over the years, teaching has brought me great pleasure, but also heart break and head ache. It is heartbreaking to see that weak student try so hard and still fail. And everybody will understand the frustration of that one particular student you just can’t reach. It is, however, immensely satisfying to see students thrive under your watchful eye and to see them grasp important themes such as ‘the power of knowledge’ or ‘the importance of freedom of speech’. The most rewarding moment in any teacher’s life is that moment when you can almost see the penny drop; the student’s eyes widen, the index finger goes up, she gasps and exclaims, “Oh, so that is why …!”
Interestingly enough, though, it wasn’t a conscious choice that initially led me to a career in teaching. I just followed the path laid out for me. Something brought me on here for whatever reason. Something was spelling it out for me, “Follow this yellow brick road”, with a big flashing arrow hovering over my head. I believe that if the signs are that obvious, you better do what they tell you to. And I was right. Whatever that something was that put me on this path, I am grateful.
The word vocation comes from Latin ‘vocare’, which means ‘to call’. I was called to this job and I wouldn’t want to change it for all the careers in the world.