Many faculty aspired to a career in education because teaching, learning, and connecting with students brought joy.
Yes, we recognized the work involved would be demanding. But we also got excited about the first day of class, spent inspired-hours crafting new learning activities, and smiled when students we met as first-years came back to connect when they neared graduation. Unfortunately, COVID-19, political unrest, climate change, and economic disruption has affected both us and students. Over the past semesters of teaching through the pandemic, the four of us ended each semester thinking, “That was the hardest semester we’ve ever had.” And now we’re anxious about what the next semester has in store. We hope, like us, you are looking for ways to thrive in these difficult conditions that are not going to change anytime soon. If so, we invite you to join us in taking the first steps towards the joy of teaching, even if joy seems a long way off.
Warm up: Find awe
Awe is the feeling you experience when you encounter something extraordinary. You can find awe in something big, like a crisp, winter night full of stars or in something small, like water dripping off the tip of an icicle. Nature and art are often awe-inspiring. You can also find awe in learning, like the passion that first brought you to your discipline, and in community experiences that connect you with something bigger than yourself. Awe connects you to the vastness of the universe, which can make your own problems and experiences seem less overwhelming. Experiencing awe can also decrease stress (Bai et al. 2021).
Strategies for finding awe:
- Go for a walk outside and watch for the unexpected and extraordinary. Bring your phone, but leave the earbuds, email, and texting behind. Find awe and then take a picture. When you return to your office, record or write down how the picture makes you feel.
- Reflect on a memory of an awe-inspiring event, perhaps one that occurred while you were teaching. Write or record your experience.
- Listen to a piece of music that brings tears to your eyes or causes goosebumps to form.
- Explicitly seek out teaching highs and enchanting moments such as the beautiful cacophony of student voices or students seeing one another as knowledgeable, changing their thinking, or discovering new ideas and disciplines.You can also build this into a short reflection activity for students. Ask them to share photos or descriptions of awe-inspiring ideas they encounter and then begin class with their ideas.