Dissertation Abstracts

Because I Am Called: The Meanings and Conditions under Which a Calling to Teach Emerges and Develops in Teachers Working in Catholic High Schools

Author: Cristóbal Madero, cmadero@uahurtado.cl
Department: Education
University: University of California, Berkeley, United States
Supervisor: Rick MIntrop
Year of completion: 2018
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Teaching , Callings , Motivation , Teachers
Areas of Research: Education , Professional Groups , Religion


This study uncovers the meanings that secondary teachers attach to their work, as well as explore the circumstances in which those meanings are articulated and communicated as a calling to teach. I draw on theoretical insights coming from organizational behavior and the sociology of religion. I use cases of teachers who worked or work in Catholic high schools run by the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuit order. The Jesuits have been running high schools for more than 450 years worldwide. Because of the tradition in education and the familiarity / prevalence of the language of calling within the Jesuit high school context, these organizations provide a good environment within which to explore the question of the calling to teach. The cases I observe in this dissertation are those of priest and lay teachers, who worked or work in the United States, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, before 1965, between 1965-1990, and between 1990-2016, totaling 105 in-depth interviews. Callings as experienced by the teachers in this study do not align either, in a strict way, with the types of callings established by the literature on callings (Bunderson & Thompson, 2009). To simply attach to the narratives of teachers the labels of classical, modern, or neoclassical callings was a fruitless exercise. For that reason, the working definition of calling with which I operate in the study, which emphasized a sense of destiny, a sense of mission, enjoyment in the teaching work, longevity, and perseverance did not completely satisfy the complexity of the phenomenon of calling in the lives of the teachers studied. A much compelling vision of callings come from the presentation of archetypes of callings. I introduce five archetypes of callings: the listeners, the martyrs, the embedders, the builders, and the chosen ones. Each of them portrays a particular aspect of the experience of a calling to teach. The narratives of these five teachers, augmented by the 76 teachers interviewed who group themselves within these focal narratives, illuminate the power of calling and also suggest a rethinking of the role of spirituality in teachers’ work. Generally speaking, teachers from different generations and regions, despite professional status, portray a consistency that makes these variables adjectives, not substantives. As mentioned, these variables make a difference in regard to certain meanings and calling archetypes, but the general rule, based on the evidence on this study, seems to be that both meanings and callings are evenly present across the variables. It is likely that in addition to the long-time commitment of teachers interviewed, their adherence to the less self-centered attractors to teaching studied by Lortie (1975) and the existence of the solid high school institution—even though the dramatic changes experimented—can make these different types of teachers more similar than what one might expect. Being called, for those who experience it, is not an episodic event in the life of teachers. It is a central experience to which they have to return often. It is a reminder not only of why they do what they do, but of who they are.