Purpose of Teaching

Enjoying Teaching

When we reflect on our teaching, there can be a tendency to focus on problems. We know that there are always ways to improve our teaching practice. So long as one student remains unmoved, there is work to do. 

As well, we know that teaching is a serious act. We teach because we care about our subject areas, and we hope our students will come to care about these subjects in their own ways. If we love Edmund Burke or chemistry, we may feel that a life lived without knowing the insights and pleasures of Burke or chemistry can—in a modest way—diminish life’s possibilities.

But this combination of seriousness and focusing on all the ways that teaching can go wrong may also get in the way of giving ourselves permission to enjoy teaching. Even when our teaching is imperfect (as it always will be), teaching can still be tremendously enjoyable. College teachers get to work with students at a particularly exciting moment in their development, and we don’t have to be perfect to be present. 

Sometimes we spend so much time preparing the best possible lecture or group activity that we forget the students in the room. Part of enjoying teaching means remaining flexible and responsive. And this will often mean having the big picture in mind. Even if we can’t get through everything we had planned, that doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost. Instead of pushing through our slides and lectures, what if we found other ways to help our student see the big ideas for the day?

One thing the pandemic taught me was just how much I missed being in my classroom with students. And what I missed most was not the times I was speaking, but watching student work in small groups, or hearing the excitement in a student’s voice when they learned that they were excited about what we were learning.

Facilitating these types of moments doesn’t call on us to be perfect. If we lead with enjoyment, we may surprise ourselves with how much students learn and how rejuvenated we feel.