I do not know how "wise" my words are or how "deep" my knowledge is, but I do know my calling - my vocation (from the Latin vocare, "to call") is teaching. I came to this understanding in a stumbling, accidental way, and I mean this quite literally. I had always thought my "calling" was to be a major league baseball player. My dad had made it to the majors, briefly, at the end of his career, I had been captain of my high school team, and I led my college team in hitting and fielding in my Junior year, so that "call" was not long distance, in my adolescent thinking. But then in a freak accident in the Fall of my Senior year in college, I stumbled and fell on my shoulder in a touch football game, ruining one of the finest throwing arms in all of Virginia, if not America. Goodbye Hall of Fame! But thank you, Dr. John Keith, for giving me a brand new shoulder in 2013.
So what was I to do or to be? Several twists of fate led me to teaching, where I could also (at least!) coach baseball. And a series of fortunate accidents then led me to a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. I had been in the right place at the right time. Then came an accidental encounter with a professor from Vanderbilt, who said, "Tom, I hear that there is an opening for a Professor of Education and Director of Graduate Programs at Converse; why don't you investigate that opportunity?" So, here I am at Converse-teaching teachers. We Presbyterians call such accidents and twists of fate "Providential." And Providence may lead us to our vocation.
A final accident: While in my first year teaching teachers at Converse and a new member of First Presbyterian, I received another "call"-also local-from John Smith. He said, "Dr. McDaniel, our teacher of the Fellowship Class has had an accident that will lay him up for months; I want to invite you to take over his duties on a probationary basis to see if we might like your lessons." That was 44 years ago and, by the grace of God, I am still at it, attempting to gain a small measure of "wise speech" and a "deeper knowledge" of those things the Spirit calls us to study. (John Smith has never taken me off probation but hope springs eternal. . .) I am an "accidental teacher" in every way possible and now realize that some people stumble and fall into their true vocation. I am fortunate indeed.
About the Contributor
Dr. Tom McDaniel is Professor of Education and Senior Vice President at Converse College. He has been Chair of the Weekday School Committee and Elder at First Presbyterian; he has been serving as a "probationary" teacher of the Fellowship Class for a continuous tryout of 44 years.