Why Do We Teach?

Why Do We Teach?

Subject: CMSC 723
To: resnik@umiacs.umd.edu
Organization: University of Maryland
Date: 17 Jul 2003 12:33:54 -0400

I doubt you remember me.  I took your NLP class over a year ago.  But I
was just going over my transcript and I wanted to say thanks.  Your
class had nothing to do with my research, so it wasn't really applicable
to the rest of my PhD career.  But it was cool.  Damned cool.  And I
learned a lot of things that just made me feel more scholarly.  Often
times now, I'll hear a sentence and think about how it could be parsed. 
And being fluent in German, I also find myself thinking about
cross-language issues.  Your course just opened a lot of doors and gave
me a lot of things to think about.  So thanks again.

On Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 5:54 PM,  wrote:

My Im a student in the Tel Aviv university in Israel, and have just learned Gibss sampling
Wanted to tell you that i didnt understand well in class and from other references, but your document is great and finally i understood!
Very good job
Thank you!

From The Chicago Handbook for Teachers: A Practical Guide to the College Classroom, by Alan Brinkley, Betty Dessants, Michael Flamm, Ctnthia Fleming, Charls Forcey and Eric Rothschild. The publisher is, The University of Chicago Press, copyright 1999, by The University of Chicago.

Afterward pp. 169-170.

This book has attempted to answer a number of questions about how to teach, on the assumption that its readers are people with enough commitment to the academic life to want to teach well. But almost all teachers ask themselves at some point - even at many points - the question not of how to teach but why. That is a question every teacher must answer, in some measure, alone. But we offer a few observations, drawn from our own experiences, on this central issue of academic life.

One of the realities of teaching, of course, is that the people who benefit the most from what we do - our students - disappear from our lives quickly and usually permanently the moment they graduate (if not before) and give us few opportunities to see how we have affected them. And yet nothing is clearer from the long history of education than that good teachers - like good parents - play an enormously important role in the lives of many of their students; that they do, in fact, change students' lives. One of the rewards of good teaching, therefore, should be the knowledge that we have instilled modes of thinking, created intellectual passions, promoted forms of tolerance and understanding, and, of course, increased knowledge.

Teaching has rewards to teachers themselves as well. The community of education and scholarship can be a lonely place at times, and can seem isolated fro the larger world. But the academic life at its best is also a broadening life - a life of constant surprises and continuing intellectual growth; a life that forever expands our knowledge of the world and hence the richness of our experience in living out our lives; a life that gives us opportunity to convey our own passion for what we know to others in the hope that some of them, at least, will come to share it. The wonder and excitement that we sometimes encounter in our students when we help them discover a new area of knowledge is rewarding to us, in part, because it helps us recapture that same wonder and excitement, which is continually with our grasp if we do not lose the will to find it.

Good teaching, finally is valuable to society - in ways both obvious and obscure. Everyone agrees that education is important, and that effective teaching is the key to education. Students need many skills and much knowledge to succeed in today's rapidly changing world; there is a direct correlation between a person's level of education and his or her chances of professional and economic success in life. But education has another, less immediately visible, social value. It is a vehicle for creating knowledgeable, aware citizens who are capable of looking critically at the world in whey they live and making informed decisions about their lives and the lives of others. Education is a way of keeping alive the true basis of democracy: the ability of people to know enough and understand enough about the great issues of their time to help guide their society into its future. In the discouraging moments that all teachers encounter from time to time, it is worth remembering this great goal - which, when things go well, also becomes the great achievement - of devoting one's life to education.