Chasing Sparks

I was recently asked what my favorite part about being a teacher was.  I thought this was an interesting question as being a teacher is a complex job and involves a lot of disparate activities.

Who loves serving on boards and advisory committees?  Or submitting proposals to curriculum committees? Does anyone really like developing Powerpoint (or your presentation software of choice) decks for class?  Grading 25 papers and fixing the same grammatical mistakes time and time again certainly isn’t my idea of fun.  Lecturing… on good days, that can be exciting.  Would I do all of the previous doldrums just to lecture?  Probably not.  So what part of teaching is it that I enjoy most and makes it all worth it?

The best part of being a teacher, for me, is watching a student transition from confusion to understanding.  The transition doesn’t happen often, but you always know it when you see it.  Sometimes it happens to an entire class during lecture, sometimes it happens with a single student during office hours.  I’m sure we’ve all seen it, a student will be looking at material and just not understanding.  Good teachers recognize this look and know that they need to spend more time developing material.  Hopefully shortly thereafter you see it.  We often describe it as ‘the light bulb goes on’, but I prefer to think of it as a spark.  I call it a spark because usually what I see is a spark of understanding go off in the eyes of the student.  This is what I most enjoy about being a teacher, and what makes it all worth it.

Prior to becoming a professor I had a career as an electrical engineer, a.k.a. a ‘spark chaser’.  As a professor, I still chase sparks, they have just moved from inside wires, resistors and chips to the minds and eyes of my students.

About Nathan Huntoon

STU Graduate SEAS Spring 2003
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