Why I Teach
As he was growing up in Gary, Indiana, somewhere inside a little boy’s head was planted the dream of things unknown and a burning curiosity to try and figure out the answers to all those questions of why. My parents spent a lot of money on that leather bound set of Encyclopedia Britannica and I had time on my hands—so I began to read and, consequently, figure out why and ask even more questions. I saw many who seemed to give in to the simple answers–the easy answers. I saw this all the way through Graduate School. Why did some people seem satisfied with the simple answers? You see. More questions.
Not that I, by any means, have found all or even most of the "answers" but I saw the need to inspire others to try for more, to seek and have fun seeking and to always inquire, critique and wonder in an effort to improve. Since I was from a blue-collar neighborhood in a mill town I eventually ran into people who said simply "I couldn’t" because I was the son of a steelworker. I was ready to fight all those who said "I couldn’t" and, largely, pursued advanced degrees to prove them incorrect. Motivated by a love for my parents and the sacrifices they made for me to have a better life, I wasn’t about to waste any opportunities. My desire to become a priest took up where my parents left off and I gained role models who were high school and college teachers. Though I never completed the steps to the priesthood, these men challenged me to learn more and to share my learning, my experiences. I realized that my calling was to become a teacher.
Teaching, in fact, is a phenomenon in its own right. Certainly knowledge of the content helps to make it successful, but knowing the material is only part of being an effective instructor. Teachers do much more than simply transfer information to students. We inspire, serve as role models, function as leaders, establish and maintain standards, arbitrate conflicts--all complicated roles, demanding careful orchestration. A teacher needs techniques, strategies, gimmicks, a whole bag of instructional tricks--but a good teacher must also learn when and how to use them. Teachers have the power to change the way students think about themselves and their world. As R.W. Packer says in Teaching in the Universities: No One Way, "Probably the most violent and aggressive act that any person can do to other persons is to invade their minds with ideas and twists of meaning which disturb the comforting security of things known and faith kept. Yet this is what I, as a teacher, am required to do."
Teaching is not a job to me--it is a vocation. I have never forgotten what it was like to be a student--the things I looked for in a teacher and the things I expected. Teaching must be a choice and never seen as something as secondary. I always listen and do my best to pursue an answer or solution to a problem. I personally engage my students in the information and critical thinking that is necessary at a college level by involving them in the presentation of that material and developing a relaxed atmosphere which will allow for risk-taking and vulnerability. The student must be engaged in active learning--an active participant rather than a passive passerby.
I often think back to that little boy sitting under the bushes in his back yard in Indiana and I often see myself finding other children–seeking them out--and letting them know it is not only good but right to dream and to make those dreams come true.