Why Our Colleagues Teach

As an academic librarian, it’s useful for me to be aware of what faculty in my liaison discipline are researching, publishing, and thinking about — that helps me provide them with better support, buy better resources (print & online) to support their work, and just generally be more collegial with them. I volunteered to monitor the faculty blogosphere for ACRLog because reading faculty blogs is another way to be collegial with my faculty, if not directly, at least indirectly because I can increase my awareness of their colleagues’ concerns and successes in the realm of teaching.

The “why I teach” meme went around the faculty blogosphere earlier this year, and both Barbara and I commented on it personally. But what do they think about teaching? Why do our colleagues teach, and do they even like it?

Dr. Crazy started this meme inadvertently, I think, with her Reassigned Time post Why Teach Literature in early January 2008. Her post begins with a bit of literature politics (always fun to observe from the outside) as she contemplated an MLA panel entitled “Why Teach Literature.” Most of the reasons panelists gave were “big picture,” but Dr. Crazy was concerned that “no one mentioned ‘pleasure’ in the discussion of why to teach literature.” Her post, then, talks about some of her personal reasons for teaching, such as “inspire curiosity,” wanting students to “… be more interested and more interesting” and “To give students a vocabulary for discussing things that are complex, which is ultimately about socializing them to talk, think, and feel in ways that allow them to be upwardly mobile.” Finally, and this goes to my reason for enjoying literature: “To offer students a break from the other demands on their lives.” There are 28 comments (to date) on this post, and those are interesting to read as well.

Free Exchange on Campus blogged about Dr. Crazy’s post and a meme was born.

New Kid on the Hallway teaches because she “…wanted to be a historian, to spend [her] life researching and writing about history, and teaching is one of the obligations attached to that career.” Of course, she has other reasons, too, like “to help students learn that there’s more than one way to view the world and that they themselves and their experiences are not the measure of all things.” And finally, she teaches and studies “… because I want to know what it was like to live in another time or place.”

Janet Stemwedel, philosopher of science and chemist, writes “I had a thing for teaching long before I had a clue what discipline I would end up pursuing.” On her Adventures in Science and Ethics blog, Stemwedel elaborates on why she teaches Philosophy of Science: “I have an opportunity to help people who think science is scary or boring understand something about how scientists build reliable knowledge” and “I also get to expose people to the idea that thinking like a scientist is fun.”

You can see a nice list of over 60!! posts on the theme over at Free Exchange on Campus. These posts are a fascinating look into why faculty choose or are chosen by their academic discipline, which often (but not always) relates to why they teach. Mostly, they “do” their discipline because they like it. Some say that teaching is a requirement for continuing to do research; often our blogging colleagues enjoy teaching because it enables them to share their passion with their students.

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