Teaching: Complex, Challenging, Inspiring, Endlessly Interesting, and Always Vital
“It appears, therefore, that of all secular professions, teaching is the most
profoundly important,” stated Robert Menzies, former Australian prime
minister. Teaching is important—true. But teaching encompasses so
much more than the act of instruction. Teaching is multifaceted: it constantly challenges, inspires, shapes, and changes us in many ways.
Teaching is challenging. We often are faced with internal and external
disruptions; assemblies, student discipline issues, family crises, and extracurricular activities interrupt classroom time. Externally determined
expectations and curricular requirements change constantly, bringing
fresh ideas into our classrooms but sometimes at the cost of constraining
or even removing some favored instructional method or goal. While many
states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards to guide precollege science instruction, expectations still vary, and even though education has become somewhat more standardized, we still have a national
patchwork of educational goals and practices. One colleague mused,
“Being a good teacher is like trying to hit a moving target.” There always
seems to be a lack of resources and too many demands on our time, but
we are resourceful, and we rise above these trials to give our students
our best even as we expect the best from them.
Teaching is inspiring; it is one of the few professions in which one can
be both mentor and scholar. It is incredibly rewarding to witness a student
become enthralled with a concept and to witness their profound joy and
excitement: the “a-ha moment” never grows old. Helping a student make
connections with everyday experiences, watching them capture the student’s imagination and bring the student novel insights. Like you, I find
that mentoring and guiding students to be rewarding. It is gratifying to
see minds develop, grow, and flourish. A teacher cannot be complacent
with his or her current knowledge. Biology, due to daily discoveries,
forces us to update and refresh lessons every time a course is taught. A
teacher never stops learning and pursuing scholarly activities.
Teaching shapes our collective future and is vital to the greater society. I benefited from my education and hope that I am paying it forward.
I am reinvigorated when a former student recounts how her education
was transformative and helped guide her endeavors. Christa McAuliffe
said it best: “I touch the future. I teach.”
Teaching requires and often inspires great responsibility. We are
guiding students through biology, an inherently interesting but often
complicated science. We must help each student discover his/her
own passion for learning. We motivate and encourage every individual
and help all to reach their full potentials. We teach our students the
skills so that they can formulate their own questions and design ways
to answer them. We have the power to transform minds and lives;
therefore, we must use this power with great care and insight.
Teaching requires time and effort to do it right. It takes time to
construct a firm foundation in the minds of students, just as faulty
knowledge takes a great deal of effort to undo and reformulate. I was
a bit slow to appreciate the benefits and great rewards of learning, so
patience with my own students really is a virtue and a necessity. When
we are committed to bringing our best into the classroom, the students
will respond in kind.
Teaching is about compassion and having faith in students’
abilities. I believe that second chances can and do make a huge difference
for some students. For example, I recently worked with a student
who returned to college after a rocky start with the goal to become a
veterinarian. She enrolled in my college biochemistry courses in preparation to enter vet school. Her earlier college grades were not high
enough to gain admittance, but twenty years later she pursued her
dream with newfound vigor, earned excellent grades, and is now a
large animal vet.
Teaching is about improving one’s instruction. I know that it is
discouraging when a seemingly simple concept is lost on a student.
Such instances lead me to my most valued professional development
experiences and have helped me discover novel ways to nurture and
instruct my classes. The same course is not taught in the same manner
twice, not only because every individual and class is unique, but
because personal reflection and introspection helps us become better
Teaching is humbling. I freely admit when I do not know or
understand something; this transforms the topic into a joint discovery
for all concerned. I often learn as much as my students do as I prepare
a new lesson, lecture, or lab. Being able to admit to not knowing it all
decreases stress and helps me think more about others and less about
myself. I appreciate all my students bring into the classroom: their
ideas, their hopes and ambitions, and their enthusiasm. Many have
made great sacrifices to attend college, of which I am in awe. As a
result, I have learned to judge less and listen more, which in turn
has helped me become a better educator.
So, I welcome you to another school year and its new promises,
challenges, and rewards. Teaching is inspiring, complex, vital, resource
consuming, endlessly interesting, and constantly changing. As William
Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting
of a fire.” It is up to us—as teachers—not just to start that fire but to
keep it burning in our students and ourselves. Lifelong learning begins
with inspiring, engaged, and passionate teachers.
NABT President – 2018
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER FROM THE PRESIDENT 407
FROM THE PRESIDENT