I teach life lessons in my classes. My wife thinks this is somehow inappropriate, since I teach Math. But I always say, “Where else are they going to learn these important lessons?” One of the life lessons I teach is, “Find something you love to do, then figure out a way to make a living doing that.” Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to live this lesson, but anyone who does will be happy most of his or her working life.
I always thought that most teachers naturally lived this lesson. We love our field (or else why did we pick the major that we did?). Then, we loved it so much that most of us got multiple degrees in our field. We couldn’t get enough. Finally, when we decided we were done with our education, we went out and started teaching what we loved, helping others see the beauty in the field so dear to us. And we get paid to do it. How great is that?
In an ideal world, this would be a continuing state throughout our professional lives. But the world is not ideal. Sometimes a teacher loses the spark, the enthusiasm, the joy that we felt when we young, idealistic, and perhaps a bit naïve. You might know of a teacher that just seems to be going through the motions, silently counting the days, months, or years until they can retire and “do something fun again.” You might occasionally feel a bit like that yourselves.
That is when you need to take advantage of the best part about working at a college. There is always something interesting going on. We have special lecture series, art exhibits, and performances that can stimulate your mind and rejuvenate your spirit. If you want to try something new in your classes, either to improve student engagement and success, or just for a change of pace, we have workshops and work groups, and grant funded activities in which you can participate.
We all know about conferences in our fields, but many of us do not take advantage of them. Traveling out of the area can be difficult, but there are many conferences in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. You don’t have to go to the entire multi-day conference either. There are often single-day rates available. The important thing is to get out there, connect with new people and new ideas, and bring something back that you could try to incorporate into your own work.
Some people are afraid to try something new, because it might not work. Those of us who have worked in science or engineering related areas know that failure is part of the process. Often you have to try ten new things (or more) to find one that actually shows real promise. If you are unwilling to try new things, you can’t make progress. You don’t have to change everything all at once, either. You can try one new approach to one lesson in one class, and if it works, try another. If it doesn’t work, go back to the old, tried and true, approach you used before and look for a different thing to try.
You don’t have to do it alone, either. Find a colleague that teaches a class like the one you teach, and share information about how you approach teaching a particular common topic. A good way to start is something like, “Hey <name of colleague>, do you cover <name of topic> in your class? I am getting a little tired of teaching it the same way all the time, and I know my students could benefit from a fresh approach. How do you introduce this topic?” When they ask, “Why are to talking like that?,” you can blame me, but maybe it will still lead to an interesting conversation.
The bottom line is, we have a great job, and it should be a fun job. If it isn’t feeling as fun as it once did, try something new. You might like it. You might have some fun again, even without retiring. And if you are having fun with your subject, your students will have more fun with your subject, too. And students spend more time studying subjects that they enjoy, which can lead to greater student success.
Everybody wins. Isn’t that what a good life lesson is all about?
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