vocation: having a strong feeling for a particular career or occupation
beloved: dearly loved
When I first heard a writer on a TEDx clip express concern for her “beloved vocation,” my inner antennae shot a derisive gaze at the screen. Then instantly, I felt terrified that no longer would the chance to have a beloved profession prevail before the end of my years. I wondered which of my many professions from the past was – or could be in the future – beloved.
Teaching in an elite New York City high school, the apex of my academic efforts, leaves me feeling off the beam. Now that I have completed my seventh year at this school, and a total of 20 years in the ed profession, I find myself still not feeling like this job is the “everything” of who I am, or the end road. A constant redefinition of interests and goals makes me feel like I’m living on a seesaw – up and down – still deciding what I want to be when I grow up!
The students in my classes are, for the most part, are the best and the brightest of what the city offers. Each day at work is routine. I prepare singular self-contained lessons each day. I grade papers; keep track of those grades; make and administer tests; and then report to my administrator any problems, concerns or damage control. I thought this profession would give me the opportunity to inspire students, but through their eyes, I am only the task-master, becoming my own worst teacher.
I hoped to develop a vocation where I could be of service; sort of returning to the scene of the crime, and making amends for childhood rebellions. By teaching history, I hoped to not only help develop academic skills, but also offer a political forum as a means to help negotiate decision-making. I wanted collegiality among my peers, and to work in a collaborative environment, with laissez-faire support from administrators. Although idealistic, the political nature of education in and of itself bogs this desired spirit. The thick bureaucratic ‘operational maneuverings’ leave little inspiration for me to act.
To continue up the learning ladder, I need a model to aspire to – a constructive framework. There’s only one system of operation here, and if you don’t fall into that line, your not a team player. Stifled creativity. So I become preoccupied with figuring how much money I will make in retirement, which is at least a decade away.
I’ve lost the “beloved” notion of teaching as a noble profession. Basically, my boss told me I could only be effective, and if lucky, would visit highly effective. All my endeavors to meet my classroom goals break down in productivity reports based on student assessments. These elements make up how the system measures my effectiveness. The remnants of negative reinforcement leadership.
TEDx spots have always promoted the successes of innovators that seem to be part of collaborative work groups, in ideal work environments. It’s not in my work environment.
Twenty four years ago I was a new mother who occasionally substituted in elementary schools, while supporting my music career. I knew how to change diapers, play a pretty solid bass guitar, have sex and cook simple meals. I barely had time to write anything longer than a journal entry, poem/lyric or shopping list. My limited conversations discussed music, philosophy, living clean and local gossip. Despite a rocky marriage, I lived truthfully to my interests.
In my frustrated poverty-stricken haze of early motherhood, I thought going back to school was the means to some greater end. After losing the last gig because the female lead singer wanted an all male back-up, I entered the teaching profession hoping to change things. My illusions believed this manifest destiny would lead me to a higher ground outside of the paycheck utility. I traded creating, collaborating and performing music for the “noble” profession.
My self-doubt all to often fears that this once edgy creative alpha player abandoned the creative drive because she really had no drive to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I revel in watching my children grow and create their own world. I like having a job. However, through attrition, my self-confidence has deteriorated. I have reached a point where fear of my mediocrity consumes me. The small possibility that this thinking is delusional feeds an energy to continue forward. This narrow idealism holds to the small possibility, that at any point, recreation of my creative imagination can once again flow easily through my veins.
Watching TED Talks expose me to achievers who have found a working creative imagination in their everyday vocation. Their stories of how successes and failures helped shaped their accomplishments bear witness to how a passion for learning, questioning, and discipline keeps these men and women on a course to rarely compromise. I need more hours in the chair to do the job that doesn’t yearn to be somewhere else, and brings together all of my life’s experiences into a single craft that exemplifies my fullest potential. To protect a “beloved vocation.”