There’s that wonderful moment upon stepping into your first classroom ready for all its delights, discoveries, and even disputes when you think to yourself that you’re the luckiest person in the world to be given the opportunity to expand minds and enrich lives. But you’re quickly taken down a notch by more seasoned faculty who tell you that this enchanted realm will disappear in a matter of time. While we all get depleted at times, we shouldn’t feel like the excitement and anticipation for teaching is something reserved only for the first few weeks or something that only happens haphazardly, but that the preciousness of the experience can be reproducible throughout our career. To be able to fall in love with teaching again begins with remembering that it once fulfilled our goal, at least one of our goals, of being happy. It has been researched and claimed that much of our happiness stems from what is in our control and that there are a host of external factors that contribute to our waning happiness (Brown and Rohrer, 2019; Lyubomirskey and Schkade, 2005). Issues with the bureaucracy of education, funding, changes in class size, class structure, and mode of instruction, as well as student issues, all contribute to our falling out of love with the teaching profession. Additionally, oftentimes personal obligations and responsibilities add stressors that create burdens and affect our happiness in our personal and work lives, however, to rekindle our love is to pursue activities that will promote and remind us of the happiness that lies within the teaching profession and our personal lives. From the perspective of both faculty members and administrators, here are some simple activities that can change our outcomes and reignite our passion for teaching.
1. The “why”
When teaching stops bringing you joy, it’s important to acknowledge where you are and check in with yourself. Years and decades of teaching will make you forget the “why” question. We often tell our students to think of why they embarked on the journey of higher education to help them excel and find higher levels of satisfaction, but we don’t often give this question serious consideration ourselves. The answer can bring us closer to loving what we do in the classroom, or it may make us realize that teaching no longer aligns with who we are. Either way, it’s a question that we should revisit often.
2. Attend teaching conferences and start learning again
As faculty, we love sharing what we know with impressionable youth in hopes of their critical thought, enlightenment, and growth. However, when we feel stressed and we cannot, for the life of us, think of how to creatively explain a foundational concept, frustration arises and our enjoyment starts to dwindle. To overcome this, attending a teaching conference to learn about new strategies in higher education can help us feel engaged in the teaching and learning process. Being in a setting with people who are excited about the same thing helps to reignite our love for teaching.
If you have left the role of a faculty member and entered into an administrative role, participating in conferences and hosting faculty workshops for best practices in teaching can help one stay in touch and in love with teaching. If possible, get back in the classroom and teach whenever possible. Be creative on how you can remain teaching while still in your administrative role.
3. Get to know and connect with your students
Having students being disconnected and disinterested in the subject we so passionately spent many years dedicating our lives to learn, understand, and ultimately instruct, easily dampens our enjoyment of teaching. But when we connect with our students, learn about what is going on in their lives and their interests, they reciprocate. They may not fall in love with the subject, but it helps make it less boring because they know a bit more about the person who loves the subject. There is increased interest to learn and find out more about the subject and why someone would find it as interesting as we do.
4. Take a break
While we all love productivity, it’s hard to love teaching when it feels like it’s all that we do. Heavy course loads in addition to professional development requirements, Zoom meetings, surveys, and other kinds of paperwork can leave us feeling drained and disconnected. It’s important to slow down and recharge every so often. Taking a semester off or lightening your teaching load will not only give you the opportunity to switch gears and open the way to new ideas, but it will go a long way for your mental and physical health. When you return to teaching, you’ll notice heightened energy and enthusiasm, which will help you feel more present with your students.
5. Collaborate with colleagues
Teaching can sometimes feel lonely when you don’t feel connected to your colleagues. This is especially true in an online environment. At least once a year, find a valued colleague or small group you work well with and collaborate on a lesson, proposal, podcast, etc. This will help you feel like you are part of a greater community and give you the opportunity to share your unique ideas that often fall by the wayside. Through those conversations you will also unearth new ideas and learn more about what excites you in higher education.
6. Change the classroom structure
Keeping your students interested in what they are learning and doing in every class session is important for student success and your continued love for teaching. Using the same strategies and techniques for teaching term after term becomes boring and both students and instructors could lose interest very quickly. To keep your classrooms alive, students engaged in learning, and your love for teaching intact, you will need to try new and exciting strategies and activities to present each day’s lesson. A suggestion is to flip the classroom and have students teach the lesson. Another is to gamify learning experiences. Don’t be afraid to skip the lecture and try something new.
To regain fulfillment and love for teaching requires work, and when the work matches our interests, motives, and values, the actions and activities we engage in continues and our love for teaching is reawakened. If we do not invest time and energy to remain passionate about teaching, we may continue to be dissatisfied, which could influence other aspects of our lives, so consider trying other activities that will help fine-tune your attitude, thoughts, and awareness. Additionally try other ventures such as mindfulness activities, meditation, journaling, a new hobby like yoga, or find non-academia based topics you would like to teach your local community, family, or friends. Make it a habit to challenge yourself and be consistent with what works for you. Overtime, you’ll see a marked difference in the way you teach and how you feel about teaching. Your students will thank you for it!
Dr. Edna Murugan has 25 years of higher education teaching and administrative experience both online and on-ground.
Dr. Noura Badawi has 14 years of higher education teaching experience online and on-ground.
Dr. Sen Padilla has five years of higher education teaching and administrative experience both online and on-ground.
Brown, N. J., & Rohrer, J. M. (2019). Easy as (happiness) pie? A critical evaluation of a popular model of the determinants of well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-17.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of general psychology, 9(2), 111-131.