When Teaching Isn't Sexy Anymore—Passion in the Classroom


millerBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.
A conversation came up recently with friends about what people are passionate about. I know people who are passionate about their hobbies (hockey, bicycling, cooking), causes (Race for the Cure, their alma mater), things (shoes, purses, toys, cars, homes), families (raising children, caring for elderly parents), and events (a holiday, a festival). What we are passionate about can range from the trivial to the vital, from the minute to the life-changing.
What is often not on this list when you reflect about what friends are passionate about? Very few people mentioned others (or themselves) being passionate about their jobs.
If someone asked, “What is Melissa Miller passionate about?” I’m not sure what they would respond. Most would likely say I’m passionate about family life: my husband and daughter, my dog and my extended family. Those are certainly at the top of the list. This is where I devote the bulk of my time, energy, and love. Others would also say I’m passionate about reading. I would also hope that my friends and colleagues would say I’m passionate about teaching and about working with my students.
When it comes to work, I am passionate about my job and view it as more than a job. But I’m not sure if I convey this to others. As a new adjunct, I am spend more of my time treading water than being able to share many success stories or personal feelings with my colleagues or friends!
Passionate is a strong word. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines passion as a “strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” Am I devoted to teaching? Absolutely! This is what I worked so hard to earn the degrees that I have, so that I could be doing what I am doing.
Many teachers will recall in education there is a concept called the Life Cycle of the First Year Teacher. It basically follows the calendar year like a line graph and shows the wild ride a new teacher’s emotions take; it looks like a Wall Street performance chart. The path usually goes something along the lines of: anticipation and excitement (July and August); survival (September); disillusionment (October, November, December); rejuvenation (January, February, March); and reflection (April and May). Do you believe new adjuncts experience something similar to this, perhaps on a compressed scale? I do because I’ve experienced it!
As a fairly new adjunct teaching at two different schools, one word can summarize how I feel at times: overwhelmed. As any new mother knows, it’s difficult to feel passionate when you are overwhelmed and pulled in several directions. I’m noticing the same pattern in my teaching. No, I don’t want to spend time designing a fun, sexy lesson plan — I just want to get it done!
However, I miss the passion already. I enjoy being fun and creative with my students. I don’t want to be overwhelmed and too busy or too tired to focus on trying to put that spark in to every lesson. I want my students to know I am passionate about teaching them, to know I’m not just showing up and going through the motions. (Gee, my husband is going to love this subtle metaphor!) I’m getting there as I get more comfortable and familiar with my curriculum(s).
Part of this may be because being an adjunct faculty member, I work part-time, so a large part of my identity is not in my job as it once was. On the other hand, I’m sure full-time, tenured professors feel their passions for teaching and writing ebb and flow throughout their careers as well. Do those of you who are more seasoned adjuncts have experience with this? How do you keep the flames of passion burning in your teaching, for your teaching?
About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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