Want to Be An Inspiring Teacher? Answer This Question: Why Do You Teach?


By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

Your work as an adjunct instructor – do you remember how it all began? What initially inspired you to teach? Do you still feel the same today? If you have been teaching for any length of time you probably have a familiar routine established. You understand what’s expected for your instructional duties and the importance of developing an effective time management plan. You also realize that there is a significant commitment of time required to be actively engaged in the class and create a meaningful learning experience for your students. But if you find that your work has become too routine feeling, perhaps this is a good time to review the source of your inspiration and how it can have a direct impact on your performance.

Many adjuncts describe teaching as something they are passionate about and it results from a desire to share their knowledge and experience with students. It is also an opportunity to help students develop academic skills, self-motivation, self-confidence, and an overall sense of self-empowerment. Another reason why adjuncts pursue teaching opportunities is that they love to learn. Schools encourage continued learning because they expect instructors to remain current in their field and participate in professional development to expand their knowledge and enhance their facilitation skills.

Students can pick up on how you feel about teaching or your general attitude – whether you teach in a classroom or online. It is evident in the tone of your communication and responsiveness to them. If you can remember why you chose this work, despite deadlines, expectations, frustrations, and a busy (often stressful) work schedule (that may seem unrealistic to you at times), you can stay focused on what is most important to you and your students.

Share Your Knowledge

A source of inspiration may be a desire to share knowledge and experience with students. Most adjuncts are working in a career that is related to the subject matter taught, along with advanced education. This adds depth to the class discussions because you understand the course concepts and can translate theory in a way that allows your students to view it in the context of the real world. In other words, you bring the course materials to life.

The knowledge you possess also strengthens the class assignments because you know if students are on the right track with their analyses, research, and projects. For example, undergraduate students often submit written assignments that address real world issues from a “should” or “needs to” perspective, without considering the potential implications or reality of their proposed solutions. Through the use of Socratic questioning and feedback, which challenges the premise of their statements, you are able to guide students and encourage them to explore alternative perspectives, ideas, and solutions.

Teach Skillset Development

Another source of inspiration may be the result of wanting to help students acquire more than content-specific knowledge. Adjuncts often see their students as individuals and take an interest in learning about their needs. As you know, there isn’t one set of characteristics or qualities that can be applied to all students because each possess an individualized approach to learning and have varying skills and abilities. The process of teaching involves being able to quickly assess and interpret where each student is at, from an academic skill set perspective, and knowing how to assist them.

Working with students requires patience, emotional intelligence, and strong communication skills – if you are going to connect with them and develop productive working relationships. Addressing skillset developmental needs such as writing and critical thinking can be very rewarding because you watch a shift in their perspective and approach to interacting with their environment. For example, as they discover a capacity to learn they become more self-confident and over time their self-motivation increases. This is the essence of self-empowerment – when students understand that their work and effort produces a positive result, including the accomplishment of their goals.

Encourage Lifelong Learning

Do you have a love of learning? Another reason why adjuncts choose to teach is that they are passionate about their career and enjoy reading about research, topics, and trends within that field. As an educator it is absolutely essential to stay up-to-date so your instructional approach is relevant to current issues and topics. Through your passion for learning will also teach your students how to become lifelong learners. Encourage them to do more with their discussion responses and written assignments than offer opinions – ask them to find scholarly sources and credible information. This will also promote the development of critical thinking and analysis skills.

As you reflect upon the reasons why you are inspired to teach you are likely to remember the sense of personal and professional fulfillment that results from helping students reach their academic goals. While the work of an adjunct often requires a substantial investment of time, it is a necessary part of the process of teaching that you accept and gladly perform for the benefit of your students. The opportunity to share knowledge and experience, while teaching self-developmental skills, can be transformative for you and your students.

By Bruce A. Johnson, PhD, MBA

Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.  Follow Dr. J on Twitter at @DrBruceJ

Look for Dr. J’s new book Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Part-Time Faculty Who Teach Undergrad and Grad School Business Courses, published by Part-Time Press, Inc. – available summer 2012.

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