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What do you like best about teaching?

We are beginning our Spring semester and this question occurred to me as we worked through our professional development day, so I thought I would love to hear other list members thoughts about why they like teaching, or liked teaching if you are now doing something else.


What do I like most about teaching? Let me count the ways! Every time I think I have finished this piece another reason I love teaching pops into my head. I was just going to use the first paragraph below to jump start this discussion but I find I am not doing very well at limiting my essay to a single topic. I think that bodes very well for me, however.

What I like most about teaching is the great nervous energy and excitement I feel at the beginning of each semester, this despite the fact that I have been teaching for over 30 years. The anticipation of meeting so many new people and starting a new adventure in learning gets my juices flowing. It is the newness of the students in each class that helps keep my interest piqued every semester. It never ceases to amaze me how every class develops its own personality and reactions to my teaching style. I teach six classes including days and nights and not one is the same. The content is the same but the way students handle the cooperative learning activities and develop group interactions is quite different. Even within classes the groups function differently and develop their own personalities. This creates quite a challenge for me to see how I might reach everyone in the class in some fashion during the semester to encourage their interest in algebra.

Lately I have been teaching developmental algebra courses. Students come to algebra with a great deal of math anxiety. (Anyone feel their palms getting a little sweaty at the mere mention of the word algebra?) Watching students overcome their math anxiety over the semester and even grow to like math, like coming to class, and actually express feelings of competence in algebra is the second thing I like most about teaching. I credit our mastery approach to assessment combined with the cooperative group activities for the transformations the students go through. My colleagues sometimes ask if I would prefer to teach Calculus because of the more proficient nature of the students? I have come to understand that it is not the content level but the student interactions between themselves and with me that make my classes so interesting. Watching students make all the little breakthroughs that occur during each semester is incredibly exciting. I now know this will happen with many if not most of my students but I never know when they will suddenly understand a math concept. The excitement they express when this happens is contagious to me and other students in the class. This is what makes every course fascinating each semester. My retention rate is about 85-90% in each of my classes and passing rates vary from 55% (which seems to be about the national average in developmental math courses) to as high as 90%. When I get a 90% passing rate that really blows my mind. The students sense that something good is happening when they see so many of their peers still around at the end of the semester. Even students who do not complete the course with a letter grade or "P" continue to attend class and participate in the group activities.

Another aspect about teaching that I love is running into former students and hearing their reactions to my classes after they have left and have had some time to reflect on their experiences. So many have success stories in their next math classes or relate how they have taken other classes with friends they made in my classes. The support mechanisms carry over, often into other areas. People tell me about the lifelong friends they made in my classes. They are quite pleased when they realize that my classes are not just about algebra but about learning how to learn, how to work with their peers, and how learning can affect their lives way beyond the formulas and word problems that we all struggle with. I find that my reactions to following my students as they progress through their academic careers and life experiences is akin to the feelings I have watching my own two sons grow and mature, quite exhilarating. You wouldn't think that in just one or two semesters you could develop that strong a bond with students but it keeps happening over and over.
MaryLiz Pierce

I echo your sentiments and Martha's. I think my favorite times are when a student
succeeds beyond their beliefs. I teach mainly developmental classes and encounter
some severe math anxiety - hence my screen name/email address. I have had
students who have quit programs and school because of their fear of math. When
those students succeed and actually start to enjoy math it is definitely the best part of
teaching. These students start with no confidence in their own ability and once they
realize they can do the work, they take off. It's a pleasure to watch them go on.
Anne Pemberton <apembert@EROLS.COM>

What do I like best about teaching? As Ted said, let me count the ways ....
I love teaching for the children. The tall ones, the small ones, the slow
ones, the curious ones, the hateful ones and the loving ones. The way young
children smell of youth, the way they don't trust until you take their
hand, the way their trust is open and they eschew help, the way they weave
deep thoughts into a discussions, the way they believe what they are told
until they are told something different. They way they don't believe
anything if it doesn't match what they already believe.

And I love their survival skills. They go on in spite of
uncommitted parents and burned out teachers to find teachers and loved ones
they can depend on. I love the fact that each day is a wondrous new space
of time to fill with good feelings and good activities. I love the fact
that teaching allows me to spin straw into purest gold!

I like the fact that students are both our customers, to be
treated with the highest respect no matter how grubby the presentation, and
also our products, for which we must strive to perfection. I like the fact
that we can see our final products just by waiting and expecting the best.
We will rarely be disappointed.

I also love the fact that working with youth is an insurance
policy to maintain my own youthful outlook no matter how long or gone my

And I love how much laughter they contribute to my life, both in
occurrences and in the retelling ..

A few days ago, I was writing a group e-mail with a class of first
graders and they were explaining how they think. Most said they think with
their brain, but one boy stood up and said that he thinks with his heart

... I'm doing this activity with several first grader groups, and about
every 3rd group, there is a student who thinks with his heart.... in the
groups who get to saying they think fast, there is always one who says he
or she thinks slow ... there is so much wonderful diversity in our
children, and it's a joy to celebrate it with them even as they enter the
years where they will be subject to a lot of homogenization so they can
receive an education efficiently ...
"Poese, Debra" <>

What a great way to begin a semester, Ted!
I think what I like best about teaching is that it is work full of
surprises. They aren't all necessarily good surprises, but many are
stupendous! I see students who are surprised that they can do math, when
they never thought they could. I see students who are surprised that I care
about them learning more than math in my classes. I am surprised myself by
the wonderful and deep understandings that will come out of a student from
whom I never expected to hear it. I am always surprised when I am at the
movie theater (or grocery store, or electronics shop, or restaurant) and
someone will look up at me and say, "Hi, you were my math teacher, and I
want you to know, after your class I went on to ....."

The worst surprise I find is that students often seem to know so little
about how to be successful students--but that is what keeps me in business!
"Martha Haehl" <>

What I like best is to see students who are afraid of math and have low skills tranform into
students who are proficient in doing math and confident in their abilities. Equally, I like to
challenge the student who comes to me confident and proficient to a broader view of
mathematics and a deeper understanding.

Bill <bill_morgan@CHARLESTON.K12.SC.US>

After 27 years of teaching elementary aged students, I was recently hired to coordinate
the construction of an Item Bank based on SC Curriculum Standards. After several months,
I have looked back fondly to the past 27 years. I try to remember the good things, and
mostly it was all great. I miss the constant interaction and engagement with others.
I miss seeing the children every day and my adult friends from the faculty. I have also
been researching other states that have local assessment systems in place.
David Warlick <davidwarlick@MAC.COM>

Good question, Ted! For me, I believe that it is an intensely exciting
world that we live in, and it has such potential to become much better.
I love telling that story, and helping others to tell that story.
I also think that the teaching profession could, and should be the most
exciting profession on the planet, that we should be having to bar the
doors because everyone wants to become a teacher.
"Sloan, Dr. A. David" <DSloan@UMHB.EDU>
>What do you like best about teaching?
The students.
Kristin Sherman <ksherman@MCKINNEYISD.NET>

What do I like best about teaching?

1. The students. Every hour brings new faces and a whole new personality that I have
the privilege to interact with. They have boundless energy and provide me with energy and
a smile when I'm feeling down.

2. My colleagues. We work together, plan together and have fun together.

3. The subject. I am a chemistry teacher and teaching a subject I am passionate about.
Chemistry was my first love - before boys!

4. Teaching itself. It is fun to share my love of Chemistry with students who are more
than a little reluctant to learn it and have them share that love with me as the year goes by.
It is exciting to watch the kids struggle and grapple with an abstract concept and then
understand it and take it to the next level.
bob jacobs <bobsalsa@CT1.NAI.NET>

It is actually my job to enter the inner most recesses of my students'
minds and help to establish new routes and to question old one. Teaching is
potentially the most intimate of all occupations. Whereas a doctor merely
explores patient's bodies, good teaching is so much more personal that it
dwarfs the pleasures of physicians.

Most students arrive in a class in defensive mode. It takes considerable
trust for a student to be willing to open up and present his/her insecurities
and imperfections to anyone. However the person most likely to be able to
remove those defensive barriers is a caring teacher.

This is my religion of education and I cherish these opportunities. I don't
fool myself into thinking that I usually succeed. But it is the true glory
of teaching that I can work towards these goals. It surely gives my life far more
meaning than I had ever hoped to achieve.
Bob Hogue <bobhogue@CIS.YSU.EDU>

1. The fun of helping people to understand and maybe even like
computer science.

2. The joy of watching discovery happen.

3. Most of all, the awareness -- once in a long while -- that I
have somehow influenced someone's life for the better. That is
very powerful stuff.
"Seese, Lillian" <>

Ted - I loved your answer. Mine would be (very vriefly summarized!) that every semester,
every class, every student is a "new beginning." An opportunity to learn something new
about math, about people, about life.
"Theall, Michael" <>

Three kinds of indicators from students: one that says "I can do this",
another, that says "I trust you to help me if I need it" and a third that
says "I did it!"
Christine Zielinski CZielinski@STFRANCIS.EDU

Time doesn't permit a long response, but the first thing that pops into my mind is the joy in seeing the students really THINK! Oh the joy and fun in guiding them from a cloudy spot to a clear mind; or to have them travel from where they believe things are black and white to see that the answers are more complex and less clear. Having taught a variety of courses, the material is not as important to me in the joy of teaching as the interaction. If students can think with a critical mind, how hopeful things are for the future.
Julie Bradby <bradby@QONLINE.COM.AU>

I like to teach because I love being a part of the growth and development of
children....come to that I love to be with children and their is
a real privilege and I too have been teaching for over 30 years! I get excited
during the last week of our big break over Summer and wish the last week away
and can't wait to get in the classroom and start to create with the children
a climate of excitement in learning AND playing together...I am an Assistant
Prin and teach and administrate together and it does get very hard sometimes
but I would not give up my teaching for the world...
we are lucky to be in a career we love and enjoy..
Greg Matheson <lang@MS.CHINMIN.EDU.TW>

I feel this too, but I have mixed feelings about it. I'd like to
be able to sleep more!

I think there is a mixture of ideas in cooperative learning
itself. Besides the sweetness and light, there is a 'tough love'
attitude, banging students heads together. 'Get this other guy's
grade up, or get a low grade yourself.' It's test-driven.

I don't want to get off Ted's topic of what we like about
teaching, but I wanted to ask about Slavin's moving on to Success
for All, supposed to be a teacher-proof method, but that's about
all I know about it. Was this a repudiation of cooperative learning?

I guess this is what I like about teaching. I don't know what is
happening. I guess I am a glutton for punishment, but I feel
constantly a failure, despite doing a lot of work.

I work with lower-achieving students like I think Ted is. Working
with university students, I didn't have this feeling so much.
I like it! I like it!

So that's what I like about teaching, the challenge and the
chance to have mixed feelings. They come with the territory.
isa kocher <>

Learning. Every student, every class, every semester is a
new adventure, a new universe, a new journey into the
unknown. A class where I did not learn something new is a
class where I was not teaching. I remember the quote: Some
people have 20 years of teaching experience and some people
have one year repeated 20 times. I do not remember who said
   "Wilson, Jennifer - NES Sp. Ed. Teacher" <jwilson@JESSAMINE.K12.KY.US>

What I like best about teaching:

Having the power to help a student realize his or her innate potential and
build confidence in themselves enough to begin the process of attempting to
reach it......
Dave Stadum <dstadum@GM.K12.MN.US>

It is actually my job to enter the inner most recesses of my students'
minds and help to establish new routes and to question old one. Teaching is
potentially the most intimate of all occupations.  Whereas a doctor merely
explores patient's bodies, good teaching is so much more personal that it
dwarfs the pleasures of physicians.

Most students arrive in a class in defensive mode. It takes considerable
trust for a student to be willing to open up and present his/her
insecurities and imperfections to anyone. However the person most
likely to be able to remove those defensive barriers is a caring teacher.

This is my religion of education and I cherish these opportunities. I don't
fool myself into thinking that I usually succeed. But it is the true glory
of teaching that I can work towards these goals. It surely gives my life far more
meaning than I had ever hoped to achieve.
 Andrea Hutchison <x2001nuv@STFX.CA>

I am a first year education student at St. Francis Xavier University in
Antigonish, NS, Canada.  I have just finished my first practium placement
and I have tons to say about teaching.  Teaching was one of the most
unbelieveable experiences of my life.  The minute I walked into the
classroom for the first time, I knew it is what I wanted to.  To see the
expression of the students faces when they finally get a problem, feels like
I made a difference in that child's life.  I am looking forward into
starting my next practium in March.  I can't wait to go back to the school
to take a look at how the students progressed!!
 "Peter Ballin" <>

I've been teaching more than 30 years. What I've come to love most is the
confidence that a good percentage of my students will emerge from our biology
course with deeper, broader and more exciting perspectives of life.
        knutson <>

No two days are the same.  No two years are the same.  And no two kids are
the same.  It is the diversity that keeps me going.  I can be frustrated
with a class and the next day they will lift my spirits with something that
they succeed at.  In my situation I see them as they grow from first grade
to high school graduation.
Catherine Scott <c.scott@UWS.EDU.AU>

I have wondered about whether I should share this ancedote but after
reading Ted's respondents' 'love teaching' responses I decided it
powerfully illustrates why good teachers love teaching and why students
 love good teachers.

 This story really caught my eye, or much more than that actually. From a
 Special Education teacher:

'I think the most outstanding moment happened when I was going for my head
teacher interview. I had a student called ******* who could not walk
although he had a walking frame. On my way over to the administation block
for the interview I heard this voice on the playground 'Look M* ******!'
and there was ******* taking his first steps in the walking frame - to make
me happy for the interview, he said.'
Jennifer Amos wrote:

That's an easy one!
Quite simply, every day is a new chance to make a difference!
Ellen Hoffenberg-Serfaty wrote:

> An inspiring page.
> So here goes:
> What do I like about teaching?
> Part of it is the obvious, of course--I am just one of those people who
> needs to make a difference in someone's life, to put my energy into someone
> or something where it has some meaning.  Teaching is not my first career,
> but I have been teaching people things most of my life.  Where I work now is
> definitely the place to make a difference--just a drop of care and kindness
> and attention can sometimes have such an amazing impact.
> I love the change--it is true that I am a "September/school starting"
> junkie--every year as a child I loved picking out new school supplies.  As a
> teacher, I get a chance now each semester to look back at what I tried,
> investigate new systems.  And the whole team of teachers and students do the
> same--ideas and improvements crackle in the air, people vow to try harder,
> work longer, we get new equipment...I love the process of renewal, and I
> think it is a very healthy one for every person in an educational system.
> Selfish as it sounds, I love what my students and fellow teachers teach me.
> Those who teach can be some of the most generous people, sharing tips and
> ideas and time and comfort.  And my students! When they feel good enough
> about themselves to share a smile, a joke, a confidence, a hug, a new
> discovery, a solution to a problem, or even what the problem is...well, that
> seems to make my minutes and hours and days turn magical.  It is like a
> chain reaction which they usually start--they share, I feel more confident
> and share it with the rest of my students, and through the day.  And every
> day there is something new.
> I love the fact that I have learned in some respects to become a patient
> person. To be more tolerant and try to understand what is happening.  I have
> a long way to go, but even my pace has slowed down, sometimes simply because
> I am accompanying or leading a disabled person, and I want to stay "with"
> them.  Lots of people say they want to become more patient...but one reason
> I like it is because I have finally learned what "stop and smell the roses"
> means.  There are just many, many details of life, especially the sharing
> between two people, that occurs when you are moving more slowly.  And that
> happens in the classroom as well.  The fundamentals of how people learn
> become much clearer when we give ourselves the time to break down the
> details, examine the problems more closely, take a tangent to find a new
> solution.
> I love the opportunity to hope.  In a classroom, more than any other sphere
> of my family's life, hoping is a very worthwhile process.  Even for students
> where other systems have lost hope, I know that if I hope, there is likely
> to be a chance, and sometimes one that can make a dramatic difference in a
> person's life.  In our troubled times, hope is so valuable, for those that
> teach and our students.
> And I love sharing a new web site, subject, song, strategy and watch how
> students deal with it.  I am always amazed by their reactions, learn new
> things about how they approach it, become challenged when it is too
> difficult.
> I also love teaching other teachers.  There is something positively
> mesmerizing in the interaction between someone who shares what they love
> with others who are interested in hearing about it.  The energy can
> sometimes light a city.
> I could go on...
Ted Nellen wrote:

> ellen, you hit on the immediacy and now of teaching very well and
> passionately. teaching is a passion and life force. a quote I received
> today struck me a apt:
> Our grand business in life is not to see what lies dimly at a
> distance, but to do what clearly lies at hand.
> Thomas Carlyle
> (1795-1881, Scottish Philosopher, Author)
> i like it for this conversation cause it reiterates to me the power of
> teaching and certainly separates us from administrators. we are in the
> trenches and though we are told we dont see the big picture, we actually
> do cause we are creating that big picture. i like the messy aspect of
> teaching, the rolling up of our sleeves and actually doing something
> rather than talking about it and analyzing it. teaching is one of those
> rare professions where we are practioners of a theory, pedagogues and it
> is a wonderous treat teaching. teachers dont quit to do something more
> importnat cause what we do is the most importnat thing one can do. it
> isn't called the noble profession for nothing. and it is no wonder that
> when tyrannical leaders take over a country the first people they silence
> are the teachers as witnessed by the brutal treatment of them. heck look
> at the treatment of socrates and that treatment still continues to this
> day. we are always on the edge and cutting edge of the future and at the
> same time forging the future more so than any other profession, cause our
> work is sticking and personal, not business. we are the gardners of the
> future as we plant seeds and watch them grow. unlike gardners there is no
> time of harvest only continued growth as we see our products grow beyond
> our wildest dreams and enjoy the fruits of our labors in our scholars
> growth. and unlike parents we are blessed with many many lives to nurture.
> to me that is the big picture too many dont get as they move out of the
> classroom and many others get as they move into the classroom.
Lew Caccia <list63@YAHOO.COM>
>    A great question to ask of ourselves from time to
> time.  :)
>    What I like best about teaching is learning from my
> students.  The students who fill our classes have much
> to teach us from both their perspectives as well as
> from their fields of knowledge.  Regardless of how old
> or young they may be.
>    Also, I believe one of the goals of first-year
> composition should be to help students discover how
> fun language can be.  And it is quite a privilege to
> share in the activity when students occasionally lose
> themselves in the fun.
>    Finally, although I may be speaking idealistically
> here, I'd like to think I'm empowering at least a few
> students to communicate publically . . . students who
> may otherwise never do so.

What I like best is when I have struggled with the kids (or one, a couple, or a few)
on a concept and then we hit the AHA moment.  The lights that go on shine so
brightly they could light up a city.

A lot of people are just discovering the joy and the agony of teaching. What
I love about it is that there are children in a class that I can discover,
lead, help and start on a path to lifelong learning.

What I love about it is that I am entrusted with children who will affect the
future, and the relationships that we develop in the year or two years of
being together. Children ideas are being formed, and they are becoming who
they will be as adults and we have a formative part of their time and
attention. School is many things to many children, but it is a place where
they can develop the personalities that they are going to be, and the adult
that is emerging. We say we touch the future, and we do, but perhaps more
than that we can help with the discovery of self, centering students to
learning processes, not in a harmful way, and integrating a sense of the
world through learing experiences of out reach, extension and technology as

Sad joys are finding kids who are lost in the world, in trouble in families,
in turmoil about what they can be, and those who feel left out. Emotional
intelligence and knowing who the children are is as important as the delivery
of the message.
        mamichau <>

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading everyone's response to why
they loved teaching.  I am currently in school to become a teacher and reading
what everyone wrote really made me realize that I really want to become a
teacher, for all the great reasons that everyone listed.  Thanks again to
everyone who replied.

I most enjoy seeing that glimmer in their eyes when they understand or are
interested in something we are covering in class.  I love to see that they
are thinking.

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