Purpose of Teaching

New Faculty Orientation and the Call to Teach

As I was preparing to meet our new faculty at orientation, I found myself thinking about what calls us to this work to begin with. Why teach? 

Many new teachers are extremely nervous and anxious, and many can succumb to what Dan Lortie called, back in 1975, “the apprenticeship of observation.” Lortie, a sociologist of education, argued that many teachers teach how they were taught, even if they can see the very real limitations of the educations they received.

What this means is that we teachers can fall into habits of replicating teaching styles that we ourselves didn’t enjoy, instead of giving ourselves permission to teach differently. Our nerves cause us to lose heart, and then—to soon—habits we developed to get through the first semester become who we are, circumscribing the limits of what we think is possible. 

But it is never too late to pause and think back on our hopes when we set out to get a terminal degree in our field. How did we envision our classrooms? What conversations did we hope to have with students? When we were sitting in our own new faculty orientation sessions, what were our secret aspirations?

Reflecting on what called us to teach allows us to make changes, right now, to how we approach our teaching and our students. If we saw ourselves having more one-on-one conversations with students, find ways to build this time into our syllabi. If we wanted students to become passionate about what we teach, find readings and assignments that build that passion. If we wanted to be like our favorite professor, what was it about that professor that we connected with? 

We faculty often have more freedom than we know. There are always ways to use so that we might inspire students while rekindling our passion for teaching.