Why I Teach - To Start a Fire

Joel Goodin photo

Dr. Joel B. Goodin, Assistant Professor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

To teach, obviously, is to impart knowledge. Knowledge is often held by the more privileged in society —those who have had higher socio-economic family environments… those who have been able to afford more education… those who have cultural capital. Knowledge is indeed power.

I want to impart power to others. In doing so, we all become more equal if I do it well. To teach isn’t enough if I’m not passionate about it. If “teaching well,” imparting knowledge as effectively as possible, improving constantly, is not my goal, then I have a job and not necessarily a career or calling. There is no greater honor, passion, and calling I can be involved in during my time on this planet than to impart knowledge – to teach – but to teach as effectively as possible.

As an educational psychologist, I’m of the opinion that we are constantly learning inside and outside the classroom – in sports, homes, interacting socially, in educational institutions. To teach effectively, I must be engaged in the art of communicating well. Initially, I trained as a therapist, hearing to understand, interpreting the root messaging of what is said, and reflecting clients’ messages back to confirm that I’ve understood accurately.

The “gist” is what matters. That’s the heart of the content and the true issue. When I teach, I focus on the gists of the content. I break down the information and present it in a way that it can be “consumed” efficiently by students. I have students reflect what I’ve said back to me to confirm understanding. Just as therapists rarely provide direct answers to clients, but guide them toward their own self-evolution, I teach to guide academic discussion, learning and logical thinking that results in student-driven insight, knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

Essentially, I want to be a spark that spurs fire and passion in the minds and hearts of my students. If my students can hear, see and even feel the passion that I have for knowledge and logical thought, then they “catch fire.” If I teach beyond the textbooks and tests to inspire a love of knowledge and logic, then I am developing individuals and a society that can provide hope for our future. This is why I teach – with all of my being –  teaching others to think and learn for themselves – creating a fire that will spread.