Monday, September 2, 2013

Why (in part) teaching is emotionally laborious

Teaching is hard work. Most of you probably know that. But as time goes on, it becomes increasingly evident to me that teaching is emotionally difficult work.

This piece by Kevin Brown illustrates some of the reasons why teaching is emotionally taxing. Most of us like instant gratification. For the most part, the gratification that comes from teaching is at best long term, if it comes at all:

Granted, we do see many students we teach walk across the graduation stage and receive their diploma.  Some of them keep in touch with us, especially via social media these days, and we hear how their time in our classes made a difference in their lives.  In some cases, they even become our colleagues in the fields we love.However, for the most part, the students who come through our classes disappear from our lives, going on to live theirs. We do not know if the quadratic equation or Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Reasoning orThe Scarlet Letter made a difference in their lives. We do not know if we taught them to think more critically about the world they live in, helped them to speak or write more clearly and more accurately. Essentially, our teaching is an act of faith in the same way that the craftsmen’s work once was.

Simultaneously, the work of teaching is an act of faith in the further sense that the labors of teaching go largely unappreciated because, when done well, the work is largely invisible to its beneficiaries:

Students do not see much of the work we professors do, nor do administrators or the public. We do our research in our offices, laboratories, homes, or libraries, largely alone; we spend hours reading and preparing lectures, class discussions, exams, and paper assignments that appear effortless; we work on committees that help make our universities and communities stronger; we spend summers reading in our fields or about teaching, working to improve for the coming school year.  Much of what we do is unseen, especially by students, yet we do the work to the best of our ability, knowing that the work is important in and of itself.
To teach, then, is to engage in an enterprise whose rewards, while real, are often difficult to discern and whose demands are rarely understood by its beneficiaries. No wonder burnout is such a powerful occupational hazard!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. It suggests that a career tends to be satisfying insofar as there are short-term observable fruits of one's labor. I did some Googling around about the typical characteristics of satisfying careers and jobs and haven't yet found much mention of this as a typical requirement for a satisfying career. It makes sense that it would be (one reason to doubt is that there seem to be so many jobs that don't really meet this standard.. but perhaps these are jobs that many people find not fulfilling!), but I'm not finding much to support that. Is there support for this?


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