THINGS I LIKE ABOUT TEACHING


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Education is the best provision for the journey to old age. ~Aristotle

In the past I’ve posted on the downside to being a professor---primarily my frustrations with entitled students and demanding parents. Lest I leave the impression that I do not like teaching, I want to share some of the aspects that make this a truly rewarding endeavor. These thoughts may not seem particularly profound, but they are real.

  1. I have a great boss. My department Chairman is truly a fine man. He clearly cares about the profession, the students, and those of us who work under him. He has been the picture of unfailing support the entire time I have known him, and has conveyed genuine concern when I’ve had some rough personal patches (and considering how private I am, this revealed real sensitivity on his part). Whatever he is compensated, it’s hard to imagine it can possibly make up for the long hours and constant pressure of dealing with government and accreditation regulations, disparate personalities among faculty, and students who are straddling adolescence and adulthood. I really appreciate this man.
  1. I work with some terrific people. I do not know all my colleagues well, in part because I tend to keep to myself, but there are a few people I admire as professionals and individuals. One colleague in particular began as my assistant, and was subsequently and quite deservedly hired as a full-time instructor. She is thoughtful, dedicated, and creative. On the rare occasions we can sit down and talk for any length of time, I am struck by how smart she is, in such an approachable way---it's no wonder she's a favorite among students. I have no idea where she finds all the hours in a day to dedicate to course development, teaching, service, and a personal life, but she makes it look easy. Working with her is a whole lot of fun.
  1. My students are a true source of pleasure. I am so matter-of-fact with them that I know I scare the pants off most of them at the beginning of the semester, but at some point most begin to understand that I can have high expectations of them and still care about them. When students realize that I really am on their side---that I want them to develop and grow and strive for their potential---they tend to relax and share themselves in a way that is greatly meaningful. How can I not love the student who shares her fears because she thinks I will understand and have words of wisdom? Who wouldn’t love the young man who thinks about my feedback and later writes to say, “This is what I think is going on with me, and I am going to work on it”? Or to get a note from someone years later saying, “You changed my life”---no, sweetie, you changed your life---I simply showed you the tools, it was you who decided to use them. Who wouldn't love to be a part of that?
  1. Sharing my knowledge---and I hope at least some wisdom---is an opportunity I cherish. Students take my classes for a variety of reasons: To get out of taking a different class, to meet a degree requirement, or because they are curious or interested. Every one of those students gives me an opportunity to share something of myself---and some of it is pretty hard-won knowledge. Of course, knowledge without character is wasted---my utmost concern is that they cultivate respect for themselves, for others, for rules, and for civility. Plato condemned the Sophists for teaching knowledge without values. Quintilian also believed that values were important to education; that is, education should be the training of the “good person to speak well.” Whereas each of us is ultimately responsible for our own moral and emotional development, how could I ask students to commit to living sound principles if I do not convey them, not only with my behavior (I hope), but with my words? Living my principles in a way that students can see them is something I pray for daily.

It takes courage for a person to go to a job he dislikes day after day, year after year, because it is a moral duty to take care of himself and provide for his family. I am greatly fortunate in that I do not go to a job I dislike, but to a job I enjoy and find satisfying---to do something I believe matters. For however long I have this opportunity, my life is that much richer for it---a blessing, indeed.

~Shyla Lefever