I love being a teacher. My decision to become a teacher was certainly one of the 2 or 3 best moves I have ever made in life. As I journey through my 45th year at this job, I only wish I could carry on for many more decades.
Looking back from such a long distance, it is easy to become reflective. How would I change anything if I were to do it all again? Perhaps this is a question we should all ponder earlier in our teaching careers.
In hindsight, I would probably adjust my vision a bit as to what I really want to accomplish with my students.
I teach accounting. I really enjoy teaching accounting. I love the complex thinking that is necessary to understand and communicate the logic of its rules. Accounting is like a complicated game where only about half of the rules are written down and you have to figure out the other rules on your own. (If it were just about following specific rules, then anyone who had a good memory and could read would be a great accountant.) It is an odd day that I do not look forward to wandering into class to see how I can play around with the minds of a group of 20 year old college students.
My students often think that, because I love accounting, my ultimate goal is for them to become successful accountants after they graduate from college. That is absolutely not the case. I very much want every student to have a happy, fulfilled, meaningful, satisfied, productive life.
---If that life is found in the area of accounting, good for them.
---If that life is found in some other field, good for them.
I want my students to find a path that excites them and pushes them to make this world a better place. There are 168 hours in every week and I hope my students learn how to go out into the world and make good use of those hours. Colleges should work to give each student the tools necessary to find his or her path and the ambition to have a positive impact on the people they encounter along the way.
I certainly teach accounting but I also hope that I am teaching something more than accounting. If I were only teaching accounting, I would be ready for retirement.
Looking back now and being reflective, I think every college teacher should give some consideration as to what they want to teach beyond just subject matter.
This was brought to my attention recently. Last Friday morning I received a written card in my mail box at campus. In this age of email and texting, I rarely get personal cards. So, getting a written card caught my attention.
I opened the envelope and the message across the front of the card made me smile before I went any further. It said: “Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone.” (apparently a quote from author Neale Donald Walsch). I could have written an entire blog essay on just those 9 words. Even before I opened the card, I was intrigued. Anyone who buys and sends a card with that message is probably not the typical accountant.
Then, inside, I found a hand written message from one of my former students. I don’t know when I have been more pleased to read about the career direction of a person who has been in my class. Accounting was apparently not his path but he seems to have done a great job in finding his path. To me, this is a true success story.
“Just wanted to drop a line to say ‘thanks.’ After passing the CPA exam and spending several years auditing, I am now in my fourth year of teaching middle school. You wrote me a recommendation for my Masters in Teaching, and I appreciate that. I teach 6th grade geography and 7th grade ancient civilization. (I was an accounting/history double major at the University of Richmond, class of 2005). I love teaching and hope you’ll be delighted to know that I use the Socratic method often. In fact, part of the ancient civ curriculum is about Socrates. I also read and revisit your book ‘Tips and Thoughts on Improving the Teaching Process’ quite frequently. I can hear your voice in my mind as I read!”
Yes, that was a good day for me. I was happy. I doubt that I had much to do with this person’s success (just from the tone of the letter, don’t you suspect he would have gotten there on his own?). But I was so pleased that he had found a path that was meaningful for him, one that he loved. Watching that happen is a truly inspiring part of this job. And, I get paid!!! Life is wonderful.
From time to time, every teacher has a chance to provide a small bit of guidance to help students find a path that appears to be the first step to a happy, fulfilled, meaningful, satisfied, productive life. Those are moments to be treasured.
Okay, what is the real point of this posting? As I move closer to the end of a very long career, I find that I have a different view of what I what to accomplish with my students. I used to want to teach them every single detail of countless accounting rules. All accounting all the time. I thought that was the secret to their universal happiness. I have changed my mind a bit. Sure, I still want my students to understand accounting. That is important and it is actually a fun subject to teach. But I also want them to develop the critical thinking skills that will be necessary for them to find their own particular path to a happy and well-lived life.
I used to teach accounting in order for my students to understand accounting. Now, I teach accounting as a platform for developing their critical thinking skills.
I often tell my students “I believe I can teach you to understand accounting and to develop critical thinking skills both. But if I had to choose just one of those two – I would choose to help develop your critical thinking because those skills will guide you in finding the life you want to live and how to make it happen.”
So, as an old person providing advice in this blog: Pause a moment and reflect. Think about what you really want to accomplish with your students today. Then go out there and do it.