Walking on water – what makes teachers carry on? – Conference about strengthening the vocation of teachers

Are they living in a parallel universe or are they just dumb? Are they heroic or too proud? A conference “to strengthen the sense of vocation of educators” while teachers and even their students are on strike all over the country?  Given the growing discontent with the Hungarian education system and the lack of appreciation of educators in the country this may seem a rather odd timing for such a sensitive choice of topic.

“You called me out on the water” – international conference by the Ignatian Pedagogy Workshop (2022. November 10-11.) was held in two locations and was joined online for participants abroad.

The conference featured keynote speaker Sandra Chaoul head of Discerning Leadership, an Ignatian leadership training program, several teachers from the JEZSU (Fényi Jesuit High School), a guest Kostka Lyceum (Warshaw) and numerous professionals invited by the Ignatian Pedagogy Workshop.

The analogy – teaching as walking on water – seemed quite appropriate for both the speaker from Lebanon and the Hungarian and Polish colleagues. Inflation, neglect or over-centralization of the education system by the government,  under-appreciation of teachers by society make the teaching profession less and less appealing to the young graduates. Less and less young people decide to study in teacher training facilities and the ratio of young and just before retirement age teachers is alarming.

The participants of the conference were trying to explore innovative and traditional ways to still make it work.

What makes young teachers choose to accompany the youth despite the dire social and financial conditions?

Choosing to be a teacher despite all unfavorable circumstances nowadays must be a conscious decision. Young teachers invited from the JEZSU and the Kostka shared what they found rewarding and meaningful. Although they easily could be in business, research  or other, more lucrative professions, they find a deeper meaning, and a  sense of purpose in teaching. The common denominators were sharing knowledge, sharing faith, being a healing presence among people, accompanying the youth – these seem to give them purpose and life.  “I teach children with learning difficulties, so I know that they will achieve smaller results than others. I am fully aware that special needs education is not in the limelight in our society. Nevertheless this is what I want to do because this is extremely meaningful and important for me.” “I teach  geography and biology. Making young people aware how crucial it is to care for the creation and work on a more sustainable future is something I find very meaningful and motivating.”

Finding a deeper meaning in reality – Conversation as a strengthening resource for our vocation

The keynote address by Sandra Chahoul provided the key word of the conference: finding a deeper meaning in reality. The 2011 Beirut explosion was a transforming experience in Sandra’s life. “The whole city was paralyzed. There was literally nothing we could do. But then people found ways to help. When the ambulance ran out of gas, people pushed it all the way to the hospital. Shop owners gave out food for free. Many people were able to do something but there were many who just had to wait. It was hard to see the meaning in all this. For many the only consolation was standing with Mary at the foot of the cross. The suffering all around was an invitation to stand in the pain and experience that there may be life after suffering.

Sandra Chahoul believes in integrating prayer, silence and conversations in leadership. Conversation with ourselves, others and with God as we try to discern what gives us life, why we do what we do in any given circumstances and how we can more mindfully serve through our gifts.

When there is suffering and injustice, our  first reaction is to do something to fix the pain, act immediately and start working on an action plan.  Sometimes suffering and difficulties indeed invite action, but other times they call us for silence and waiting. “ I am not saying we should deny reality. It is important to voice our hurt and our needs and think together where God is acting in the situation.

We must discern how we may act to change the situation for the better or it is best to wait and see how the situation will help living my vocation.

Conversations do help. Listening to one another and telling one another what we feel and think is a healing process but also it is a creative discerning process.

“Once you start formulating your desires, roads start unfolding for you, and you become more receptive to see the opportunities.”

Best practices to avoid burnout

Besides conversation as a means to discern a deeper purpose, a meaning and the working of God in our realities, other best practices were also shared by JEZSU teachers and professionals invited by the Ignatian Pedagogy Workshop.

The topics of the afternoon sessions were finding inner freedom, renewal, mindful presence, emotional intelligence, positive attitude, conflict resolution, and the future of the school. “As Zacheus climbed a tree we also need to look upon our lives and the circumstances from new viewpoints, ” said Kinga Rivesz-Tóth, facilitator of the inner freedom workshop. “People working in helping professions need to renew their energies from time to time. As soon as we are able to look upon a situation with fresh eyes or from a new point of view we may be able to tap in new resources, gain fresh energies.”

It is worth taking part in shaping the future

Father Provincial Elemér Vízi SJ concluded the conference: “If we compare teaching with walking on water it is not because we think teaching is hard or impossible. Jesuits have been working in education for exactly 475 years. These years showed us that education, or shaping young people is actually shaping the future. And as Saint Peter bravely stepped out of the boat, as long as he was looking upon Jesus, he was able to walk on the water. The purpose of Ignatian pedagogy is to teach young  people how to maintain this relationship with Jesus, so that they can walk safely along Jesus all their lives.