Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why teach?

I was recently nominated for a teaching award (though I didn't get it, my colleague, the much more deserving Ralph McNeal, did). As part of the application for it, I had to describe my teaching philosophy. My first thought was "oops, am I suppose to have one?" Eventually, I cobbled together some things that I thought sounded professorial, but I have been mulling over since why I actually put more into teaching that I need to.

I started off thinking in terms of personal calling. Well, I feel called to research and creating knowledge, but I'm not so sure about teaching. Eventually, though, I stumbled upon my answer, and be ready to be underwhelmed:

It's my job, so I should do it well.


At first this sounds trite. What about the larger purposes of education? What about enlightenment and passing on understanding to the next generation? For whatever reason, these don't motivate me.

Instead, I'm keenly aware that I'm paid to teach (among other things), and so I should do my best every semester and constantly seek improvement.

For me the more important question is not why do people teach, but how effectively do they do so.


Jerry said...

Do you think the why and how can be linked sometimes, though? In both my education grad program and my current position, people have talked a lot about inclusion and exclusion in the classroom and within major educational institutions in general. As a result, part of how I teach is geared toward the why--helping making universities more hospitable and accessible places across lines of ethnicity and class. It guides practical decisions like in-class instruction and reading lists. But I'm also in a College of Education currently, so the line between why and how is inherantly a little fuzzy--the teaching is the research.

Brad Wright said...

Good question, and probably a more in-depth analysis than I have given it. I suppose that one person's "how" would be another person's "why". E.g., hospitable setting.

I think my post was more reacting to the idea that the ideal for teaching is a deep calling/ passion. While not discounting that, for those who have it, I wonder about the motivation for excellence for the rest of us.

S.S.Stone said...

I like to think of teaching as a calling - when one is "called" it's usually the passion that fires them up..the spirited non- stop energy they posess that makes them good at what they do, they soar taking others with them - contagious, magnetic but,like all jobs, teaching needs hard workers more than it needs saints. It needs problem solvers and creative thinkers. It needs people who are confident and well-spoken. The public's perception of teaching, I fear, mirrors that of the clergy, where teachers have been summoned to this crusade by some spiritual force. Passion is then their reward?

kent said...

I think the question for me is not why did you start, but why do you continue to teach and share knowledge? I woulsd ask this of a 2nd year teacher, a 10 year teacher and a 20 year teach. The bloom is off the rose and they have seen the dark of the profession. They know what does and does not work. Why do they stay? The same questions can be asked of my profession pastoring. it is those who continue and endure that are interesting to me.