Do You Have a Job or a Calling?
Teachers are sort of like circus people. You don’t find just one in a family: “Here’s a picture of my kids. Mary there is an attorney, Bill is a CPA, and The Amazing Marvin--my youngest—is a fire-eater. He’s the one in the sparkly leotard and no eyebrows.” I taught high school English and writing, my wife taught Spanish and English, my sister taught English and my wife’s sister is an English teacher as well. I loved being a teacher because, even when I failed, I knew I was doing something important. It was, I knew, a calling.
Ask a teacher why they became one and you’ll probably hear about a teacher they had who influenced them to want to have that same impact on others. I had some great teachers. Mrs. McKee was tough but helped me gain an appreciation for Shakespeare. Miss Herbert directed our plays and that was a big reason why I wanted to head the drama productions at the school where I would eventually teach. Mr. Boggs was a kind and grandfatherly presence in junior high social studies and in 3rd grade, Mrs. Brown read Mark Twain aloud to us and made me a life-long fan of his work. But even before any of them was Mrs. Mooney.
Mrs. Mooney was an influence but she wasn’t a teacher. She was the driver of bus #73 that picked me up each morning and dropped me off every afternoon for six years. I remember her as middle-aged (which to a first grader meant she was probably 30) with a beauty salon-constructed beehive hairdo sprayed into a mass so stiff it probably would have functioned as a crash helmet in the event of a wreck. She also wore the brightest red lipstick I had ever seen. On foggy mornings I swear I could see her red lips before the yellow bus. But when she swung open the door to that bus, those red lips would part and she would give every one of us a sunny smile and greet us by name. We all loved Mrs. Mooney.
I don’t know what were all the reasons and influences that became my calling to teach. It certainly had something to do with wanting to be like the good teachers I mentioned. But if I really examine that decision, I know Mrs. Mooney was as much an influence because of the way she approached her work.
Every occupation can be performed in one of three ways: 1. It’s a job. A job is a transaction. It’s a means to an end. You need food and shelter, so you do a job and get paid. The end. 2. It’s a career. A career is a step on a longer journey. I want to do well because if I do it can advance me to the next level. 3. It’s a calling. This is about the fulfillment of a purpose in living. We think of doctors and nurses, clergy and teachers as people fulfilling a calling and they do. But it isn’t limited to these professions. In whatever work you do, you have the potential to influence and add value to the lives of others. To do what you do with joy, kindness and dedication is to fulfill your purpose right where you are right now. Mrs. Mooney simply drove a bus every day but the way she did it with joy and compassion for us was the fulfillment of her own calling and I know now that it became part of my own.