I have a cousin who is a retired GP. It was a second career for him and he took to it well. He ran a progressive and effective practice and notably raised awareness of depression amongst young people.
In his retirement, he continues to help his community, being involved with a Mountain Rescue Team, and last year, as a pensioner, completed all the Munros in just 88 days. His expedition to conquer these peaks was in memory of a friend, and so far has raised around £50,000 for ‘L’Arche communities for disabled young people.
These are great achievements, but I’ve always thought the measure of the man comes from a question I am regularly asked when people spot my surname: “Oh -- are you related to Gerry?” My affirmative is invariably met with a tale of his kindness, the extra help he gave as their GP, and how they have never forgotten his support for them.
To figure in people’s hearts in such a way suggests that what he has been working at, for a good part of his life, has been something more than just a career.
In fact, to do it justice, you’d need to use a word that is so rarely heard it seems almost archaic -- "vocation".
People shy away from this description of a job because, to describe what you do as a "calling" can seem precious or self-serving, and certainly it is better applied to others than self. It also has a whiff of self sacrifice and "good works" which people may often feel is off-putting or inappropriate.
However, it is adescription that can be applied to almost any job -- for it relates to the approach brought to the task. If your job is the fulfilment of what you want to do, if you operate with integrity, commitment, and awareness of others, you will make a difference, you will be following a calling.
In a long career, I have come across many teachers for whom that word, vocation, is appropriate.Their dedication to the young people they teach -- in their education and welfare - has been immense.
The good of the pupil has frequently been put before their own personal advancement and they have followed that particularly tough road of practising what they preach. I’m not blind to the fact that not all teachers fit this description and, indeed, the road to cynicism is often lined with good intentions, but I have admired many for their total commitment.
No doubt, in the reaction to the McCormac Report, the usual arguments about working week, holiday entitlement and public sector security will be rehearsed again and again.
I tend to find that those who have most knowledge of the profession have more respect for the job done by teachers than those with a more passing acquaintance.
However, when the report is discussed in detail and reactions are formulated, amongst teachers, politicians and the public, I hope that due respect will be given to young people and their futures, and we will focus rather more on vocation and less on vacation.