Martin Robinson writes some great stuff but I don’t agree that teaching is a vocation. There are two reasons why I really hate the “teaching is a vocation” trope. Firstly because it feeds into a management narrative that goes along the lines of “I don’t have to give a reason why I’ve given you this meaningless task. Teaching is not for 9 -5 ‘ers you know”.
The inference being that teaching is not a profession and there is no rationale to it, other than you do it because you love it. If you don’t love what I am telling you to do then clearly you aren’t a teacher. Such is the logic of some educational managers.
The second reason needs some unpacking. It’s my view that some teachers have given up on teaching as a profession. I call them neo-trad’s and there are two types.There are those who see teaching as some kind of second rate quasi science. This group seek evidence and find little solace. They seem destined to spend eternity debunking everything on the basis that everything isn’t “proper” science.
The second type of neo-trad suffers a kind of pre-modern existential angst that somehow we are losing our humanity. If the first type seems to have got stuck, like hamsters on a wheel, in the 19th Century, the second have settled for a neo-Platonic St Augustine inspired attitude circa 4 AD. Neo- traditionalists see the past as the new future.
In truth I have some sympathy for the second type of neo-traditionalism. I agree life cannot be traduced into some kind of mechanistic process that serves the economy and the few who benefit from it. There is a place for the transcendental in life as well as in the teaching profession.
My problem is that there seems to be the view that the machine exists somewhere else. We fight the machine by clambouring aboard the transcendental time bus with our book of verse and well thumbed editions of Brideshead revisited. The proposition is that you are either of the machine, or against it.
The two types of neo-traditionalism represent the two strands of Liberalism. The former is the post enlightenment view that science and the economy will rescue humanity and the latter is the view that we tolerate the machine, as evil as it maybe, because it generates wealth but we don’t have to be part of it.
The truth is that we are the machine. It’s called society and it’s complex and multi-variant. It doesn’t easily lend itself to the scientific method nor does it exist, somewhere else, warded off like an evil spirit by reciting Dickens in a loud voice whilst wearing a straw boater and punting down the River Cam. We can’t exist external to the matrix but we can decide what purpose it serves. We are the intelligence that runs the matrix; the the matrix doesn’t think for us.
The teaching profession is neither a science nor an art and it certainly is not a vocation. It is not a calling from God. It is the profession that concerns itself with designing the future of the social world. It is the most important profession there is. You either engage with the data or you let someone else do it for you. The problem is not based on the label we give to those who teach but on the nature of how people learn. Teachers are required, not because it is their vocation, but because students learn from the relationships they have with them.
The problem with the notion that teaching is avocation, or indeed a vocation, is that whilst the profession is tinkering with the reductio ad absurdum or riding the happy clappy bus engaging with all that the elite has decided is good; Michael Barber and his ilk are driving down the road sign posted Hell, views paid for by the organisations whose interests they serve.