Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Joys of Teaching

In this post, I explore the question: What are the joys of teaching?

Teaching is something I have been doing for a long time, going all the way back to when I was a student and a tutor. Early in college, I decided that I wanted to teach at the college level. (Immediately before that I had planned on a career in engineering.) If I had to put my finger on what made me want to teach then, I think it was that, as a tutor, I had seen the joy of connecting people to mathematics, a discipline that is associated with a lot of negative experiences for many students. But, as with so many things in life, as we grow older and gain more experience, what we appreciate changes. Nonetheless, seeing students light up when they grasp an idea remains a particular joy for me.

I enjoy teaching because I enjoy the challenge. Each semester, I find myself faced with challenges: I am challenged to react to students’ misconceptions that I have not seen before, or I am challenged to get students to invest their best effort, or I am challenged to find new ways to keep students engaged in class. Every year, I reflect back on what has happened in my classes, I review the evidence of student learning, and I think over the learning experiences that students had. I always see a need to do better. I always rethink my course problem sets and grading scheme, and I look for ways to remake them in ways that will encourage students to learn more from the course.

I enjoy teaching because I enjoy connecting with students. More than just teaching content, teaching is a coaching and mentoring relationship. I have been at my school long enough that I have had a number of students at multiple points in their careers, sometimes across lower and upper division courses, or in their undergraduate major and in master’s courses or teacher professional development institutes. Sometimes, students complete a course with me and continue to come back for advice or assistance. I enjoy seeing the students grow and gain new perspectives on what they have learned, or seeing them begin to transition from thinking about the classroom from the student’s view to thinking of themselves as teachers.

I enjoy seeing the impact of a positive learning experience for students in a way that I cannot see through the other things that I do. Being in front of, in the middle of, and generally in the presence of students gives me opportunities to impact students in ways that are not visible when I am in the role of researcher, or serving the university.

This is a time of year for reflection, and for planning. I encourage my fellow instructors to take a moment to enjoy the fact that teaching is an awesome responsibility, and a great privilege. Enjoy teaching in spite of, and perhaps because of, the challenges! 

Feel free to share your favorite joys of teaching in the comments. 

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