Are You Energized By What You Teach?

Jun 29, 2021

I know a chemistry teacher named Nate who treats talking about isotopes like the calling out of winning Powerball numbers. Kids don’t hide their phones in their laps when Nate lectures about chemistry. They lean forward in their desks and connect with the excitement and their teacher’s passion that he emanates. They strive to understand what he is teaching, and race to demonstrate their understanding to him because they know he does this “shaking thing” when he gets excited and lets out a howl that you can hear from the hallway. And there is no better way to get Nate excited than showing him you understand something about science.

Nate has a way of making the content that he teaches compelling to his students. It’s in his hand movements, how he darts to the whiteboard when he thinks of a way to illustrate a point, the different tones of voice he uses. He doesn’t start his lectures with bravado, but works his way to the climax, speaking with a cool and calm voice until he reaches the crescendo. Not every student leaves Nate’s class loving chemistry, but they all leave knowing that Nate does.

Personal passion is infectious.

Nate’s secret sauce for delivering compelling, epic lectures is that he has a deep connection with the material. It’s not that he has an expertise in everything he teaches, or that he is a world-renowned scientist and knows every detail about chemistry (although maybe someday). Instead, Nate is fascinated by chemistry, his subject area, and wants others to be fascinated by it as well. He knows there is relation between a student’s understanding of the content and their own confidence, ability, and success. This comes across in how he teaches it, and many students adopt his same feelings.

Are you passionate about the content you teach?

Is the content that you teach in your classroom worth getting excited about? If you are nodding your head “no” right now, perhaps it’s time to begin searching for value in the material. Is there a purpose in the subject matter that you know will motivate students? Can you figure out a new angle to view the content that your learners might not have seen before?

The fact is, everything we teach in classrooms should have some level of inspiration behind it, otherwise we are wasting our students’ time. Essentially, if we can’t define why they have to learn something, then why should they have to spend so much of their lives learning it?

Now, not everything we present in our classrooms makes us want to holler out loud and scare passersby in the hallway. So this isn’t to say everything you teach needs to be exciting. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’m not a huge fan of teaching grammar. It is not an easy task getting students excited about the use of semicolons and participles. However, I do recognize the value of proper grammar, and I take this purpose into lectures I present on the subject.

Purpose leads to passion.

Mike Rowe from the show Dirty Jobs once said, “Never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.” I’m not sure I agree with him that we should never follow things we are passionate about, but I get his point. I am not passionate about teaching grammar, but I am passionate about helping students become better communicators. Grammar helps them do that. Therefore, I approach lectures about grammar with that same zeal and try to transfer it to my students.

You will not love or be excited about everything you teach in your classroom; nor should you be expected to. But you can look for the purpose in what you are teaching, and allow that to fuel your passion. And the chances are, your students will pick up on that and possibly develop a little passion of their own.

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