This blog post was inspired by a colleague’s suggestion last year that fellow faculty write a short piece for the campus paper on why we teach. I have been thinking about this essay prompt for a while, and I think it is especially fitting to write this now that I have tenure.
The reason why I teach is not that I am a teacher. It is because I am a social scientist. Part of the sciences (natural and social) is the pursuit and sharing of knowledge. This means that I teach, because I love learning. I teach, because I love sharing what I’ve learned. Teaching my research areas forces me to think and re-think ideas and concepts. It also makes me a better writer. When I prepare for a new semester, I update my PowerPoints with new data. This is not just to be a good teacher, but it is also to be on-top of things going on in my field. I teach because it is truly fun and satisfying to me to find new material for my classes. I go into each semester hoping that the new information I’ve found may be interesting and compelling to my students.
At the same time, in the classroom, I am less interested in teaching facts, than sharing knowledge that can help students critically look at the world around us. To me, knowledge is not just a series of facts and data points. Social science is a process; it is active not static. In sociology, a typical introductory lesson includes C. Wright Mills and the “Sociological Imagination.” Mills writing in 1959 notes that there is, “generous comment in all schools of social science about the blindness of empirical data without theory and the emptiness of theory without data. But we do better to examine the practice and its results….” (66). In other words, social science is not just the practice of research or even its findings, but it is a field that is at its best when we ask questions about research. It is my hope that I’ve been able to inspire my students to ask similar questions.
So why do I teach? I teach not because I am a teacher, but because I am a social scientist.