Is teaching a calling or a choice?

Have you ever asked yourself ‘is teaching a calling or a choice?’

I have heard many teachers proudly declare that they were called to teach or that they knew they wanted to be teachers from they were single-digit ages.

Not my choice

I never wanted to become a teacher. It was nowhere near my mind at any point in my life prior to my final weeks in high school.

As a matter of fact, mathematics wasn’t even my favourite subject. Like a good student, I did what I was supposed to do. Went to school. Got good grades. Didn’t do drugs. Went straight home after school. School was just something I had to do because my parents said I should. It never excited me so it was the last place I thought I would spend my time as an adult. When most of my third and fourth-form classmates were choosing subjects aligned to their aspirations to become doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs, my eclectic selection was apparently a MAJOR cause for concern.

“Venessa, what is this? What do you want to become? Where is this going to take you?” my fifth-form teacher asked with horror all over her face.

She sounded so distressed. Her voice was ladened with panic as if I had somehow wasted my five years of high school because at that point, no changes could be made. The writing was in proverbial stone. She handed me my subject choices for verification. Yup, it was all there: Biology, Accounts, Spanish, Visual Arts, and Information Technology. Mathematics, English Language, and English Literature were compulsory.

“A graphic designer,” I replied. The only selection among the five options that made sense was Visual Arts.

She stared back at me in disbelief. I can only imagine now what was going through her mind. Look how dis bright pickney a dash weh ar life. She called my former form teacher to join the discussion because clearly, an intervention was required for this wayward soul. I guess my teachers thought that my consistent good grades meant I had it all figured out. But really and truly, who does at 15 years old? All I can remember from that meeting is the worried looks on both their faces. Like two concerned mothers trying to talk sense into their child that was about to fall off the edge of life, they questioned me for what seemed like an eternity. I saw their mouths moving but couldn’t really hear what they were saying because I didn’t understand what the big deal was. It was when I went back to my friends and enquired about the subjects they were doing, I recognized ‘the problem’. They were choosing the sciences, foreign languages, business subjects, or vocational areas. They had a singular goal. My selection apparently had no focus.

Was it my calling?

Needless to say, I didn’t become a graphic designer. I became a Mathematics Teacher. If someone had told me I would have ended up here, I would have laughed them to scorn. Me? Teaching? Mathematics? Dealing with hormone-ravaged teenagers? 20 years later, I still can’t believe it has happened. I question my sanity every day. Tumultuous does not adequately describe the journey I have travelled within this profession since sitting in that classroom between my two mothers.

Some have deemed it a divine calling. To teach is to be summoned by God they say. If so be the case, why me? Most days I don’t even feel like I know what I am doing. You would think God, in His infinite wisdom, would choose a more capable person. Every time that I hear teachers talk about how they’ve always wanted to be a teacher and how passionate they are about it, I sit in my corner thinking, ‘well God, there’s somebody that seems very interested in your agenda’. He doesn’t seem to be listening to me and my ranting so here I am.

Neither calling nor choice

So, is teaching a calling or a choice? I think it could be either, neither, or both at the same time. One could feel a divine calling to teach, while another may choose to based on personal preferences such as a love for children. One may also find themselves choosing the path as a last resort. I came to teaching because I was eligible for a government scholarship to pursue mathematics education. Who turns down free tertiary education? It is this profound doubt in my calling to be a teacher that has led me to approach my practice in the way that I do. I do not think I have the natural talent to teach. I do not think that my initial teacher training adequately prepared me either so I am constantly trying to better understand my content area and learn the best ways to teach it. Professional learning is an essential part of my life as a teacher. Without it, my classroom would just be mayhem and madness. Almost two decades in, I still feel the need to be learning and upskilling. With every new year, there are new students, new technologies, and new research that influences what happens in my classroom. So in order to be a good teacher, I have to choose to remain a good student.

Was teaching a calling or a choice for you?

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Venessa Powell

Venessa Powell

I never wanted to become a teacher. As a matter of fact, anybody who knew me knew that I was set on becoming a graphic designer. Some would say it was by divine intervention others may call it the universe redirecting me, but circumstances led me to teachers’ college at the end of high school where I pursued secondary mathematics education.

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