Now that I’ve got your attention with this unusual declaration – joy? Teaching? In the same phrase? Surely not! I want to set forth some reasons why I teach. And yes, I want to affirm the joy I get from teaching. Not every day – a whole week can go by without a smidgen of hope – but enough for me to be teased back to the campus for one more tryout in the classroom.
First, I teach because I believe I have something positive to share with my students and also with my colleagues. I enjoy the courses I teach (policy and legislation, disability studies) because they tap into the wellspring of a lifetime of personal and professional experiences.
I did many other things before I landed on the doorstep of Griffith. I was a recruitment clerk in the Australian Public Service before moving to Canberra to be a research officer for a while. I then grew into a social worker before evolving into a social policy advisor (my all time favourite job at that time). I worked for politicians and parliamentarians, bureaucrats and bullies, and consultants and charlatans. I met with families enduring the most extraordinary hardships with grace under pressure. I worked alongside people with disabilities who taught me much about effort, perseverance and creativity. I sat in meetings with advocates and adversaries . . . all in the quest of being useful, doing my bit to make a difference for the better.
A wealth of experience for my teaching
As you can imagine, I gathered many experiences – some good, some bad, some indifferent, but all of which are now fodder for my teaching practice. Before entering the professional workforce, I had some basic skills in listening, thinking and writing. However, the breadth of my work experiences transformed those foundational skills into higher order skills of consultation, critical analysis and persuasion. This transformative process continues.
I come now to the second reason I like teaching. I am discovering that my students are significant contributors to my continuing personal and professional transformation. I don’t want to gild the lily here. I do find some students rather daunting and intimidating (is it wise to admit to this in a space that students might read?). But more often than not, the more daunting students are the ones who have much to teach me.
These students remind me – not through the spoken word – but through the silent (if occasionally sullen) act of turning up each day in their own lives, about the power of persistence, perseverance and tenacity. To be honest, I am gobsmacked by their daily “take it or leave it” courage in tackling their studies. So many of my students have too much to deal with: single-parent responsibilities, carer duties, poverty, migrant homesickness, refugee trauma and adjustment, domestic violence, chronic illness. And still they come to class, hand in their assignments, and sit their exams.
I am moved to write this piece today because during the first four weeks of this second semester, I felt myself wilting under the Sisyphus-like mountain of developing new course materials, updating old course readings, negotiating marking assistance, managing the Learning@Griffith Discussion Board with an unexpectedly large online student enrolment, attending to committee responsibilities, keeping up to speed with my writing schedule, and so on and so forth. You know how it goes.
But then this morning, a student posted a comment on the Discussion Board. She wrote “I LOVE this course!” Her jubilation was infectious.
Suddenly, I was happy. I felt the joy of teaching again.