The job of teachers is to shape the lives of children. There is a great deal of power in that and it’s a tremendous obligation. Teachers must release this power to their students, both within each lesson (from direct teaching to independent work), and gradually over the course of a child’s schooling, from elementary to high school and college, so that ultimately, students can develop power within themselves and be ready for “the real world”. Teachers mold the hearts and minds of the next generation.
David Brooks, New York Times columnist and modern day philosopher, writes in his book The Social Animal that emotions drive decision-making. Emotions assign values to things and reason can only make choices on the basis of those valuations. Most of our decisions are made from the unconscious mind, without even realizing it. Only now do I see that in my attempts to write about teaching, I’ve been subconsciously trying to convey an indefinable feeling I sense while in the classroom. I know I’m not alone – I see it on other teacher’s faces and in the words they express while talking about their students. I will argue that the hidden reason – unseen even to teachers – as to why we teach is a particular emotion.
Emotions are hard to put in words, so I’d rather describe it in a series of moments (for now). A rare natural smile from my colleague, the strictest teacher in the school, as his student explains what he learned that day. The misunderstood boy whose anger I’m able to diffuse by getting him to talk about Harry Potter. The sensation that swells up inside me as students hug me on the way to the busses on the last day of classes, and the girl who hands me her ‘Mr. Kool folder’, saying, “so you remember me.”
The emotion you feel in these moments goes straight to your heart. It’s a mix of pride and the kind of joy that is so intense you nearly cry. Maybe it’s love in some form, or perhaps it derives from a parent-child like connection. Whatever it is, this is what keeps us teaching. For me, seeing the spark in a child’s eye as he taps into his imagination to come up with an idea for a short story is nothing short of magical. It conjures up an emotion that is unique to teaching, and is the real reason teachers teach, even though they may never realize it.