My undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering, and I worked briefly as an engineer before becoming a teacher. Occasionally, students will ask why I’m a teacher when I could be making much more money as an engineer. This question used to surprise me. Isn’t it obvious why I’m a teacher?
I enjoy it It’s important to me that I enjoy my work, and I enjoy most of my job as a teacher. I enjoy working with others, and I particularly enjoy working with adolescents. I also enjoy the need to think quickly of alternative approaches to support the various thinkers in the room, and I enjoy having meaningful conversations with others. I like that many of my tasks are an opportunity for engagement, creativity, reflection, and growth.
The experience of flow Whether I’m in class or talking among colleagues, I am nearly always experiencing a sense of ‘flow’, or ‘being in the zone,’ at work. Flow is “the state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities” (The Happiness Hypothesis, p. 95). For me, flow is an experience of coherence among all levels of my being: the physical (body), intellectual (mind), emotional (body/mind), and relational (social).
This overall experience is spiritual for me, like I am only a channel for something larger than myself, or an instrument being played by someone else within a grand, universal symphony. To quote Jonathan Haidt again, “Finding coherence across all levels feels like enlightenment” (The Happiness Hypothesis, p. 227)
The access to coherence and an experience of flow, in my experience, is two-fold: develop an authentic understanding of your fundamental nature (body, mind, and spirit), and align your actions and intentions with that understanding (in other words, build your integrity muscle).
It makes a difference More than a couple times when a student who’s asked that “why teach?” question, I’ve answered with, “If I ever find a job that makes a bigger difference in the world than teaching, I’ll stop teaching and pursue that job.” (This is only partly true, since it would also have to be a job that allows for enjoyment and flow too.)
Teaching is an enormous opportunity and responsibility to make a positive impact on the world. Though we aim to positively impact all of our students, I have a real and palpable experience of having contributed to the well-being of all life if I’ve positively impacted the well-being of even a single life in my classroom.
(Note: I’ve found it too easy as a teacher to confuse making a difference with promoting an agenda or an ideology. While it’s necessary for us to be grounded in values when we teach, these values should be aligned with the values stated explicitly by the school or in support of the intellectual and holistic flourishing of our students regardless of politics or worldview. There have been times when I have shared my views on politics, religion, or environmental crises with an intention to sway students’ views because I think my views are the right views, but that is not my role as an educator.)
Perhaps we could make it more obvious The assumption some of my students have made is that more money means that the career is a better fit. It's an easy mistake to make, particularly in a culture where we don't explicitly value enjoyment and coherence between self and profession. I think that our cultural value on salary as a priority isn't wrong, but it is missing vital components that support our well-being.
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