Teaching academics face a perfect storm, whether it is the precarious work environment or the increasing administrative burdens (e.g. online teaching). In addition, teaching has historically been perceived as a poor cousin to research. In this perfect storm, I believe that proactively and critically reflecting on one’s calling allows the educator to find meaning amongst the chaos, as well as providing guiding light to a person’s journey as an educator. Callings “capture the most positive and generative manifestation of the connection between people and their work” (Wrzensniewski, 2012 p. 45). The key question here is: are we so preoccupied with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching, that we have perhaps forgotten the most important question of all – why we teach? In this blog, I briefly reflect on my journey to find and operationalise my calling, detailed in a forthcoming publication*.
‘Calling’ – a brief background
Bloom et al., (2021) provide a comprehensive model of being a ‘called professional’. The following figure illustrates the process. Two broad plot lines that people follow to transform themselves by re-imagining work as a calling are: a) discernment (journey to find one’s destiny), and b) exploration (identifying that something is missing and filling the gap). After this re-imagination, they think about how to align their calling with their profession. As they start to live their calling, two key motivations lay the foundation for their actions: the need for professional legitimacy and the need for personal authenticity. They experience authenticity and legitimacy by receiving membership, where they are accepted by the wider professional community and where their authenticity is acknowledged. This results in the person-to-author an ‘integrated identity as called profession’.
Finding my ‘calling’
I believe that three major lived experiences defined a plot line that led me towards a destination, where I wanted to align my personal goals with my scholarly goals, or attempt to find my calling or my eventual destination. These three important experiences led me towards a destination, where I wanted to align my personal goals with my academic goals.
Based on my childhood experiences with my parents, my two daughters, and my journey through kidney failure and eventual transplant, I realised that there were several things that were important to me. It was clear from my childhood that I wanted to be like my parents, who had forgone monetary pursuits to serve people, and I wanted to do what I can in my capacity to reduce gender inequality. My kidney donor further impressed upon me to demonstrate kindness and generosity. Essentially, 1) I wanted to be like my parents, 2) make a difference for my daughters, and 3) operationalise kindness like my donor. Over time I was able to specify my calling as a marketing educator, based on the three experiences. It was to contribute to a systematic and transformational change relating to Responsible Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – specifically, to be an SDG-Marketing scholar. The 17 UN SDGs, encompassing the greatest challenges facing the world, with its tagline of leaving no one behind, allowed me to live my calling in my role as a marketing educator.
Living my ‘Calling’
Bloom et al., (2021, p. 318) argue that operationalising one’s calling required a person to be a ‘living manifestation of the calling’. To achieve this, the person has to author an identity that includes both professional legitimacy and personal authenticity. I aimed to gain professional legitimacy by being involved in developing units related to the SDGs. For example, I developed two units of study MKTG3122 Marketing and Sustainable Development (BCom) and CEMS6005 Poverty Alleviation and Profitability (MMgt CEMS). I was also involved in the development of one session for BUSS5220 Responsible Business Mindset (MCom). I develop authenticity by focusing on a compelling narrative that emphasises why I do what I do. For example, I changed my biography on my website to emphasise the ‘why’. Below is an excerpt from my official website:
…., has provided Ranjit with a lived experience of vulnerability and kindness. These experiences have shaped the type of academic he wants to be, an academic whose research, teaching and engagement attempt to make lives better, by reimagining the purpose of for-profit firms. With its tagline of leaving no one behind, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., End poverty; No hunger, Gender equality), provide an ideal context to realize these academic goals.
What’s your ‘calling’?
This extraordinary personal journey has allowed me to reflect on why I teach. The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching is critical but in the dynamic education context, I believe finding and operationalising one’s calling by aligning personal values with professional goals have the potential for providing a greater purpose and meaning to teaching. So, what’s your calling? And what does it mean for your role as an academic?
*Voola, R. (2022). Forthcoming Reflections of an engaged marketing scholar: An SDG-guided journey towards being a ‘called professional. In L. Moratis & F. Melissen (Eds.), The Future of Responsible Management Education: Business Schools and the Sustainable Development Goals, Taylor and Francis.
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash
About the author
I am an Associate Professor in Marketing at the University of Sydney Business School. My passion is to drive change in how businesses engage with the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across teaching, research, and governance.
One thought on “Are we forgetting why we teach? The importance of reflecting on one’s ‘calling’”
Mariners take precautions, checking the weather forecast before they set out, ensuring their vessel is equipped, and staff trained. I suggest teaching academics need to do the same, so they can preferably avoid the “perfect storm”, or at least ride it out. The best way to survive a storm is not sail into it. Teaching academics should ensure they have skills which allow them to work outside the academic system, if conditions are unacceptable in it. Otherwise the lack of alternatives can result in exploitation.
The next step is for teaching academics to skill up for the job. In 2013 I set out to learn how to teach online. One reason for doing this was in case students were forced off campus in a crisis. I was not expecting a pandemic, but when that came I was able to quickly switch to teaching online, have trained and planned for this.
Teaching academics should not get too precious about having a “calling”. Academics who teach are first of all something other than teachers, they are members of a particular discipline, or profession. For example, I am a computer professional, who teaches computing at a university. My aim in to help new members enter that profession. I am not a full time professional teacher, like those in schools.