Another little Grove Book full of big thoughts, Called to Teach: Teaching as a Mission Vocation from Trevor Cooling will prompt you to consider your calling as a teacher. The first chapter defines vocation as it relates to teaching, simultaneously questioning the role of the Church in honouring teaching as a vocation and encouraging the reader to ascertain whether his or her own calling to teach is in line with God’s gifting.
The text then moves on to three chapters which, in turn, define our calling to be distinctive, inclusive and professional. The weight of the argument is centred on the need for Christian teachers to understand that it’s not about working harder or smiling more as part of our Christian witness. Rather it is about understanding the worldview from which we interpret our professional responsibilities and influencing the story which our students are being told by the prevailing worldview. It is about offering a counter-cultural vision to a profession which no longer understands the Christian view of what it means to be human.
Laying out a vision for inclusion, in which we can work alongside those of other faiths and those of none without compromising our belief, Cooling encourages us to be open about our faith, whilst fully realising that what we believe can and will be contested. In fact, as he points out, our Christian worldview overlaps at many points with that of our colleagues. We all want justice and peace in our society – the difference emerges in the way we define those values. We may, as Christians, also uniquely value forgiveness and servanthood, but these are values which should increase our contribution to inclusion, not cause division.
The problem arises, of course, when the prevailing concept in which professionalism equates to neutrality conflicts with our faith. Here Cooling is particularly helpful, demonstrating both from 1 Peter and the story of Daniel, that we can identify, work within and seek to transform a culture in which we are ‘aliens and strangers’ right up to the point at which we are required to abandon our primary loyalty to God.
Thoughts and ideas are liberally supported with case studies and examples from a range of contexts. It is a challenging text to read, however experienced you are as a teacher. That said, it is also an affirming text, pointing the way to a transformative model in which we, as Christians in a profession which is often aggressively secular, can fulfil our calling to mission. It’s tough, it’s costly and if we’re working without the prayerful understanding of our church family, it’s lonely. But if we are to connect our faith with our working lives in any meaningful way, it is vital.