Why Teach Kids? Maximum Fun Under the Laboring Sun
This is the third and final part of a series of posts about my reasons for teaching that I've split off & cleaned from a longer work that I wrote a few years back (and promptly did nothing with). Part 1 is available here, and part 2 is here.
I like to have fun. Like most people, I prefer to enjoy myself. And I’m the type of person who enjoys teaching other people about things. While the job turned out to be very different from what I thought it would be when I was a naif in pursuit of my credentials, the actual teaching part is pretty much what I expected. And while all of the ancillary, non-classroom stuff is not the most enjoyable thing I could think of doing at any particular moment, when the kids are in the room, and I’m on, I have fun. Hopefully, most of the time, the students are having fun, too.
The inevitable qualifications are in order. First, the fun I get from teaching is very much a function of my specific personality. I’ve always enjoyed performing for an audience. This goes way, way back to elementary school recitals, and a long history of acting and public displays of all sorts. I’m not an expert in the craft of performance, but I know that the small amount of training that I’ve received performing during my life has served me incredibly well when teaching a room full of people. The performer sensibility and the instincts of an entertainer can be quite useful when trying to teach a room full of kids. I am sure that many teachers use authority and structure to compel students to hang with them through whatever material is on offer for the day, but that’s not my approach. I’m hesitant to use authority to compel people if there are other, equally compelling modes of interacting with people, and while my room is undoubtedly structured, the learning tends to drive the structure, instead of the other way around. I try my very best to make the experience of being a student in my class an intrinsically worthwhile experience. I'm not always successful, but I do know that I would never be deliberately successful if it weren’t a primary operating principle. And I have found that when I approach the work from that perspective, more often than not, everyone in the room enjoys being there at least as much as they would enjoy being somewhere else.
Aside from the fun of teaching kids for just how much of a hoot it can be having fun with a room full of students, I also take a lot of joy from my subject. My undergraduate degree is in biology, with a concentration in ecology and evolution. I’ve always enjoyed learning about things for the sake of that learning, mostly without regard to the subject, but if I had to pick a particular subject as holding the most fascination and wonder for me, it would be biology, hands down. Life and living systems are incredible (here meaning beyond intuitive credibility). There is something very gratifying about being a living thing studying what it means to be a living thing. And while that’s mainly what every subject is about (assuming we broaden the notion to human beings learning about what it means to be a human being), for my money biology offers some of the purest variants on this theme. I won’t yammer on about this particular point here, but I will observe that if you don’t agree, it’s probably a function of your own biology education. You have been poorly served by some member(s) of the biology teaching community, and for that I apologize.
What does one do for a living if one is a biology fanboy to the point of getting a college degree in the field? Some of us do research. Some of us work in the various medical and health careers. Some of us move out of the discipline altogether and find something else to do. None of those avenues were all that interesting to me. I wasn’t a good researcher (it takes a particular type of personality to be willing to bring the requisite type of focus to what is frequently a tiny part of the much larger biological whole). I had neither the inclination, nor the top-tier academic drive to move into medicine (and really, you don’t want people in medicine who don’t burn to be there). I suppose I could have wound up in an unrelated career path if my own experience in education mirrored that of the folks that I have taught with over my career who moved on to other things, either by choice or by necessity. But I didn’t do any of those things. I went the teacher route and was lucky enough that it worked out for me. On one level, this is kind of the default state for me. With both of my parents being successful high school educators, I was on the teacher track from as far back as I can remember. Add that to a deep interest in a particular subject that is only deeply taught to people approaching the end of their adolescence, and the result is me. I have come to believe that me teaching science is the most likely version of my “steady working life.” If you simulated my existence multiple times, something very close to what I am doing right now has to be the outcome more often than not. From where I stand, this seems to be the correct thing. It may sound conceited, but I am pretty firm in the belief that I am very much the kind of person that you want to teach your students about my subjects.
However you might feel about that, I thiink it should be just what you want teachers to believe, even if they wouldn’t usually put it quite so out in the open.
Well, there you have it. Want to tell me how much you liked these pieces? Or how much you didn’t? Drop me a line or leave a comment if you have something to say.
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