September 8, 1997
Volume 50, No. 3
This report makes a number of recommendations for the concrete support and evaluation of teaching as well as recommendations urging the commitment of individuals and the institution to this vital activity. Such recommendations, however, exist only to create an environment in which faculty may practice and perfect the art of teaching-an art that has its own intrinsic rewards. For many faculty, teaching is a vocation, a calling aimed at developing whole human beings and, in the process, addressing the problems and possibilities of humanity.
Teaching involves responsibility to our students on the one hand and responsibility to our subject matter on the other. The first responsibility depends heavily on the local character and circumstances of Emory at the present time: the kinds of students we attract; their intelligence, preparation, and motivation; their aspirations for life after Emory. The second responsibility depends on more cosmopolitan considerations of the nature of our disciplines, the history of their development and our situation within that history, the debt we recognize to scholars and teachers who have come before us and the debt we feel to those who will follow us. We are concerned not just with those who are students for a season but with others who are called to a lifetime of service, inside or outside the university setting, to the larger world.
The concept of vocation-in spite of the old-fashioned, religious connotations of the word-is necessary even today to hold together these potentially divergent senses of responsibility. It is a historical fact that universities in the Western world and colleges in America have evolved from institutions established in the service of religious communities. Emory, born out of the Methodist commitment to higher education, is part of this honorable heritage. More so than terms such as profession, career, or in more corporate parlance, job description, the word vocation is appropriate to the generosity of spirit and concern with the student as whole person that teaching requires.
Using the word vocation as a way to describe the teaching life may also allow us to become sensitive, personally and institutionally, to changing rhythms in any academic career. Certainly across a lifetime of scholarly work, many faculty will have alternating periods of intensive focus on teaching and on research. Or, at different stages in his or her career, a faculty member may need to learn new ways of teaching or new areas of his or her discipline. Various disciplines appear to have somewhat different career rhythms. Career flexibility, as a correlative to vocation, must be accepted and supported. We urge that new attention be paid to the vocation of teaching, and that the idea of vocation include flexibility and creativity in the shaping of a career.
In affirming the vocation of teaching in all its different forms and
manifestations, we believe that faculty are motivated ultimately by the
simple pleasure of teaching. Helping a student improve his or her writing,
communicating to students a new way of understanding, enabling a student
to select a profession or a program of study, enjoying discussions within
a small seminar of ten or twelve students, perfecting the methods and shaping
the character of a profession: all these are sources of satisfaction in
having done a task gracefully and of joy in seeing the life of an individual
and the life of the community changed for the better.
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