Why We Teach--Four Short Stories

There are days, especially at the end of each semester, when I wonder why I keep teaching.   I guess we all face those dark moments.   Students will be lazy and then expect you to go out of your way to do them a favor.   Or, you will ask a serious question in class and get a ridiculous answer that causes the whole class to become distracted.   Or, a heated debate will arise over a grade, an argument that seems more painful than it is worth.   Yeah, days like that happen.

Occasionally, I try to step back and remind myself of why I chose to become a teacher and why I want to continue to be a teacher.    We all need to recharge our batteries especially here at the end of a long academic year.   Never ignore that need or you will become grumpy and disillusioned and I have already met way too many teachers like that.

It is nice when something happens that helps get us pumped up and ready to go back into the classroom and do it all again.  Here are a few short stories that happened to me over the past couple of weeks that have helped me end the semester on an uptick.  


Story 1:   I posted the following message on my Facebook page a few days ago.   I don’t post often but I am quite sure that these few words got more response than anything I have previously entered on Facebook.   The thing that made me smile the most was how many of my former students hit “like” in response to this message.

“I just officially turned in my grades so that finishes up my 43rd year as a college teacher. Only 17 more left to go and I’ll hit the 60 year mark.

“And, no matter what you might hear, 99 percent of the students do work pretty darn hard and enjoy the learning process. They are good kids who want to learn and make their mark on the world. If you can keep the right attitude, teaching will help you become an optimist.”


Story 2:   I was at church a few Sundays ago.   I am not sure I was looking for spiritual guidance for my teaching or not but I managed to find some.   The first lesson for that Sunday was from the 50th chapter of the book of Isaiah and started with the fourth verse.   This translation came from the New Revised Standard Version:

"The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”

Isn’t that just so beautiful and inspiring?   I truly do not know how often (if ever) I might “sustain the weary with a word,” but merely the thought of that possibility is touching.   Maybe, in the future, I should be more alert to the needs of the weary in my classes.  

What other jobs can you get where people pay you a salary and then hand you the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of so many others?

I fully realize that I will probably never know how (or whether) I have influenced many of my students.   But there is always the hope that I have been able to make some difference.   I often tell my students “Of course, I am here to teach you accounting and I think that is important.   But my real goal is to help make you smarter, to guide you in becoming a better thinker because that is a benefit that you can carry with you for the rest of your lives no matter what you choose to do.   That will make a difference in you become and what you accomplish.”

That is not exactly the same as sustaining the weary with a word but perhaps each of us helps to provide our students with some change that will impact their lives in a positive manner.   That is, indeed, a job worth having.


Story Three:   About two hours after I left the above church service, I was driving around listening to NPR on my car radio.   Someone was interviewing Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, historian, and political commentator.   She has become extremely famous by authoring numerous books such as The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

I was not paying close attention because I was driving but I believe the interviewer asked her if she had loved history as a young child and that love had then carried over into her later career.   Her answer was that she had certainly not been all that excited about history but that one of her teachers in (I think) high school had turned her on to how interesting the study of history was.   The teacher had a passion for the subject and passed that love along to her.  

She acknowledged that her career might have been entirely different except for the influence of that one teacher—one person who simply shared a passion and that made all the difference in the world.   I wondered whether the teacher was still alive or, possibly, had died without ever knowing the positive impact that came from that love of the subject.   All those wonderful books got their start with one teacher.

We cannot influence every student so greatly but we can certainly impact many of them and that is just a wonderful way to spend a life.


Story Four:   Yesterday, before I sat down to write this blog posting, I pulled out the Wall Street Journal (May 6, 2014) and flipped through it.   My eye was immediately caught by a story on page A-3 “Colleges Don’t Buy Happiness” by Douglas Belkin which talked about a Gallup survey.   I won’t quote much here but maybe enough so that you’ll get curious enough to go find and read the entire article.

“...people who feel happy and engaged in their jobs are the most productive.   That relatively small group at the top didn’t disproportionately attend the prestigious schools that Americans have long believed provided a golden ticket to success.   Instead, they forged meaningful connections with professors or mentors, and made significant investments in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities.”  

“’It matters very little where you go; it’s how you do it’ that counts, said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.   Having a teacher who believes in a student makes a lifetime of difference.’”    (emphasis added)

“The strongest correlation for well-being emerged from questions delving into whether graduates felt ‘emotionally supported’ at school by a professor or mentor.   Those who did were three times as likely to report that they thrived as adults.”


Why Do We Teach?    I cannot answer that question for anyone other than me but I’d like to believe that I teach because I want to make a little difference in this world and one of the best ways to do that is to become a teacher who cares about students and their future.


Post a Comment