Finding the Joy in Teaching

Stephanie Fiore, Assistant Vice Provost
sunrise jump for joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy lately and, in particular, the desire to find real joy in our teaching work. Joyful work can be energizing, inspiring, and affirming, while joyless work can be enervating, tedious, and dispiriting. I’m not talking, of course, of perfection; in teaching, as in all things, there is no such thing. What I’m thinking about here is instead a soul-satisfying sense that you are doing the work you want to do and that you are doing it well. As teachers, it means also that you see the impact you are making on your students. Perhaps they are learning new things or are discovering new passions, all because you have introduced worlds to them that pique their curiosity, answer questions, or challenge them to think deeply about important and interesting issues. Maybe they are able to pursue a successful career in the field of their choice because you mentored them along to excellence in some real way. Or perhaps you have learned new things from them, and it has re-energized your own thinking and process of discovery. All of these moments can be downright joyful, yet I have discovered in my role at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching that some faculty do not live the joyful and purposeful life of teaching, but instead live that part of their professional lives with trepidation, dread, or ambivalence. I’m here to tell you that, if you have not found that joy in teaching, it is within reach, by thinking hard about how to teach in a way that motivates students and helps them to learn. 

Dean McManus, in his book Leaving the Lectern describes his journey to joy. In his earlier faculty days, he wore his lab coat to lecture to hide the sweat stains which were a natural result of the anxiety and dread he experienced in teaching. Research was natural to him; teaching was not. When he reflected on his teaching, explored new ways to think about his teaching and how students learn, and then worked at implementing new teaching practices, he found that his students learned, and were even excited at the learning that took place. 

A student walked into the computer room, greeted another student, and said, “Man, that pattern looks nothing like what I got yesterday.” He apparently pulled out his map and the two students proceeded to discuss what the differences in the two patterns at different times meant. And they knew what they were talking about. To me they were expressing self-assessment of their learning. I leaned back in my desk chair with a limitless smile, punched my fists at the ceiling, and hissed to myself, “Yes-s-s-s-s!” They had learned it. I was doing something right. Oh, the joy of it! The pure joy! (McManus, 2005, p.97).

McManus points us to the steps he took on his journey of instructional transformation: accept risk, use feedback, reflect, adapt and be flexible, establish a partnership, accept that you are teaching in a different world, and welcome the joy (McManus, 2005). 

At the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, we can be your partners in this journey. We have consultants who can sit with you privately and discuss your teaching challenges or your ideas for innovation. We have a multitude of workshops, trainings, and discussions about teaching where you will have the opportunity to discuss teaching with other faculty from across the university, learn what the evidence tells us about how people learn, and explore strategies to improve student learning. You will find resources at your disposal, either on our website, at our lending library of books on teaching and learning, or simply by asking us for them. Most of all, you will find an ear, support, and someone who understands your desire to feel joy at work. 

We are waiting for you. Come join us at the CAT!


Stephanie Fiore serves as Assistant Vice Provost at Temple's Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Image by lena dolch from Pixabay
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