Why I Went Into Teaching
Sep 1, 2008 Career Development 2261 Views
Successful teaching can be defined in different ways. I consider positively impacting the lives of students as aspect of successful teaching to be at least as important as expertly imparting content to students. When asked, What do you teach? my response invariably is students. In other words, I emphasize the fact that I am teaching people, as well as content. In that vein, my best teaching experience was the same experience that proved the tipping point for my going into teaching rather than professional engineering.
This experience occurred when I was a Teaching Assistant in Physical Chemistry at UCLA. About four weeks before the end of the quarter, one of my students met me at my office hours. He explained to me that he had failed to two mid-quarter examinations, and likely would not pass the course, and not graduate from UCLA on schedule. His only hope was his performance on the quarter final exam. He was quite depressed and obviously felt hopeless.
I was able to diagnose his situation in terms of his standing in the class. But more importantly, I was able to re-motivate him by helping him develop his study schedule and meet with him on a regular basis to get him prepared for the quarter final exam.
I did not know how he did on the final until he called my home.
He explained to me how he had done so well on the final exam that the professor gave him a B in the Physical Chemistry course. Hence, he would graduate on schedule, and with good enough grades to move on to dental school.
Moreover, it was his verbalized thanks and the sound of heartfelt gratitude in his voice that made me realize the positive impact I had had in his life. This was not just a grade in a course, not was it graduating and moving on to a professional program, but he had undergone a sea change in his thinking about himself.
So did I.
I realized at that point that I wanted to be a professional educator because of this sort of impact I could have. Since that time, I taught Physical Chemistry and Chemical Engineering courses as a TA at UCLA, taught Physical Chemistry at a small private Southern California University, taught basic Earth Science to high school English Language Learners, and have even taught arithmetic to learning disabled 1st and 2nd graders. It is not the content that matters to be, but the students.
I have had many other experiences in which my students have done very well academically, and have gone on to live successful lives. However, the teaching experience I described above was my most successful in that I then realized the impact I could have, and what my in life calling was.