(Note: This was intended as an article for an education and technology publisher, but it didn’t have a strong enough technology focus for them.)
It is often said that teachers teach because they love their work (the pay not being much of a draw). Yet for all the talk of teachers loving what they do, studies consistently show that teacher turnaround is higher than most professions. I’m convinced a reason for this turnover is because when teachers are asked about why they love their work, their explanations are vague. Common are statements like, “I love it that I’m making a difference.” Left out is a good explanation of how they make a difference. Left out is why this difference is so important. Since a joy only superficially understood is easily toppled, a deeper exploration of the joy that comes from teaching is key for educators.
Of course, teaching isn’t the only profession with members who love their work. Regardless of profession I think people who experience joy at work do so because they not only enjoy the activities of their job, but because they recognize the value in what they are doing. At a time when technological advancements in a year outshine centuries of advancements in the past, the lover of his work today can tangibly see himself as a part of the progress of humanity. That’s job fulfillment. I, as a teacher, however, enjoy my job because the products I provide are the reason and knowledge that underlie all progress.
Reason as an explicit pedagogical goal can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks about 2,400 years ago. However, the importance of reason wasn’t fully realized until the Enlightenment and the Enlightenment’s application, the world’s first technological boom, the industrial revolution. Since then, man’s comforts have skyrocketed, his life expectancy has doubled, and his population has grown well past what anyone previously thought supportable. Today’s technological boom has the potential to be a New Enlightenment with another round of previously unforeseen benefits to mankind. Additionally, the technological boom spilling over to education gives educators new and better tools to lay the intellectual foundation required for further growth. I enjoy my job because my successes are the foundation of man’s continued progress.
But doesn’t our modern age have problems of its own? It surely does, but I’m inspired by the great educational theorist, Horace Mann, who saw education and the training of the intellect as the cure to even our modern ills. “Now, what can save us from endless contention, but the love of truth? What can save us, and our children after us, from eternal, implacable, universal war, but the greatest of all human powers,–the power of impartial thought?” I enjoy my job because if a future peace in our world is to be achieved, I will have helped create it by instilling in future adults the love of reason and knowledge.
But isn’t part of teaching drilling and testing of students over facts? Isn’t this just an academic exercise? Certainly, but let’s look at a smartphone. Every tiny component’s location, material, design, shape, function, relationship to the other components is an answer to the question, right or wrong? And since the designers were well-versed in determining facts, every answer was right. Now we have what would seem to anyone in the history of mankind, a magical tool, a tool of the gods. I enjoy my work because I teach the skills that make the tools of the gods.
You may think I’m engaging in hyperbole. Not everyone creates cutting edge technology. Maybe teaching should be geared toward training average folks so they can get a job with a livable wage. Perhaps you believe that civilization is propelled by a tiny fraction of the populace and the rest just go along for the ride. This may have been true, but seeing that it must continue to be true is selling today’s students short. The great educational theorist Shinichi Suzuki’s great breakthrough was realizing all Japanese children speak fluent Japanese! An obvious fact, but Suzuki, recognizing the enormous complexity involved in mastering a language, determined that children must be further capable of equally complex tasks and set his expectations for every child accordingly. People are capable of more than we think. I enjoy teaching because I see potential for greatness in every student and work to actualize it.
Finally, in today’s age we are flooded with technological opportunities (all products of the reasoning mind) unavailable to the great teachers of past generations. With the entirety of the public domain at my fingertips for free, being the scholar my students need to see has never been easier. With customizable software that allows me to both compose courses that match my vision of the subject as well as meet the individual needs of my students, being a teacher has the potential to be more effective and more creative. I enjoy teaching because it prompts me to be a scholar and an artist.
I love my job for all these reasons. Why do you love yours?