Purpose of Teaching

An Education That Inspires

After spending a day with new faculty at their orientation, I am even more excited for the start of the semester and the prospects for liberal education. Tomorrow, my presentation to new faculty will focus on St. Lawrence University’s Mission Statement, and I will suggest that it offers a roadmap to an excellent education. At the heart of SLU’s mission are three interconnected ideas: the liberal arts, inspiring teaching, and students selected for their seriousness of purpose.

The linchpin is inspiring teaching. An inspiring teacher doesn’t tell a student what to think. They ask questions that make a student want to learn more. And this is the connection between a student’s purpose and the liberal arts. A student with a burning question dives into learning. They seek out new ideas and experiences. They read as much as they can. They challenge themselves. They make new connections and read across disciplines and traditions.

As we approach a new semester, how can our teaching ignite that type of passion? How does our classroom become a place where students deepen their sense of purpose and take ownership of their learning?

Here are a few ideas. 1. Ask more questions that lead to genuine doubt and a drive to learn. 2. Find ways to have each student talk more each class period. 3. Select readings and assignments that drive engagement. 4. Don’t forget the strengths of our traditions. Each of the liberal arts contains countless treasures. Teach our students that these treasures are there for the taking. As Emerson writes, “It takes a good deal of time to eat or to sleep, or to earn a hundred dollars, and a very little time to entertain a hope and an insight which becomes the light of our life.”

This quote helps me think about teaching. Even the student who seems most disengaged can be turned around in a moment. It just takes us finding those things that connect their purpose to vast fields of study waiting to be explored.