Signs You’ve Lost Your Joy of Teaching

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of the ebook Journey of Joy: Teaching Tips for Reflection, Rejuvenation and Renewal. Download the complete ebook here »

It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning around mid-term. “Carrie James” (a fictional name) grabs her textbook and class roster and heads upstairs to her first class of the day. It starts at 9 o’clock. She makes a pit stop before arriving at the classroom. When Carrie enters the room, most students immediately stop talking. She quickly calls roll and says, “Let’s get started. We have a lot to cover today.” Carrie begins the lecture by displaying a list of key terms on the document camera. She lectures for most of the period, closely following the text outline and then announces a test to the moans and groans of students. As soon as class ends, Carrie returns to her office, shuts the door, and turns her attention to the manuscript that she was editing for publication. She has an hour before her next class which she puts completely out of her mind.

All who work in higher education know someone like Carrie. We may even be like her ourselves. What has diminished her apparent joy in teaching? While the pressure to publish is quite real and has become even greater in recent years, faculty like Carrie miss the joy of teaching by focusing too much of their immediate attention on other work responsibilities thereby missing opportunities to find greater satisfaction in teaching.

Finding joy in teaching involves incorporating aspects of pleasure from other aspects of our lives into our teaching lives. As an example, I love to read. However, participating in a book club for pleasure (as opposed to professional reading) is not for me. It’s too restrictive. The freedom to choose to read any book that I want is a large part of the pleasure I derive from reading. Knowing this about myself, I can also look for ways to preserve autonomy in my teaching. Selecting and creating my own materials, designing meaningful learning activities, and developing my own assessment measures are some possible ways to exercise choice as a teacher.

Another source of joy in teaching comes from connecting with students and colleagues. By closing herself off from others, Carrie is decreasing her chance of finding much joy in teaching. Assuming this scenario is her daily routine, she seems to be isolating herself from the intellectual stimulation that others can provide.

One of the best lines in the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey” is spoken by Lady Violet Grantham. When her cousin Matthew, a lawyer, explains that he can do some extra work on the weekend, she replies, “What’s a weekend?” Every day was the weekend for folks like Violet. We all know the meaning of “weekend” even if we don’t change much the pace of our work. If only the weekend could be daily. Perhaps it can.

A recent study of working adults in various occupations conducted by Ryan, Bernstein, and Brown (2010) and published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, confirms two factors that create what is known as the “weekend effect.” These factors, which yield a greater sense of happiness, are autonomy and relatedness. The reason we experience more satisfaction on the weekend has to do with our getting to choose how to spend our time and being able to connect with family and friends. Looking for ways to incorporate these factors into our daily work lives will lead to having a daily weekend. For instance, seize and celebrate the choice you have in conducting your teaching life. Exercise autonomy in curricular design activities. And, purposefully interact with people who can enrich your view of teaching and learning, i.e., primarily students and positive colleagues.

Excerpted from Journey of Joy: Teaching Tips for Reflection, Rejuvenation and Renewal. Download the complete ebook »