The Big Why

I teach freshman because I believe the first few classes in college set the tone and level of academic rigor for both the student and the thousands of people working in the college. I want to be someone that makes a difference in the lives of others. Their successful completion of their academic goals IS my purpose and why I wake up (almost) every day excited about what I will learn if I ask the right question.

Teachers, and I use the term broadly since teaching does not only happen in a four walled classroom, must keep why at the top of their vocabulary list. As we teach, we share our beliefs, opinions, upbringing and biases with our students. Accepting this is a good practice to incorporate into our mentoring and teaching opportunities.  We are products of our environment and our environment is not always neat and pretty. And that is great. Nature has purpose and order, but that purpose and order comes from a place that can be chaotic and dirty and hard to grasp without a larger focus. Our mission and our students’ goals provide that larger focus.

Don Quixote and Sancho with Cervantes watching

Don Quixote and Sancho with Cervantes watching

While building the foundations of an effective writing practice, I drill home the value of answering why.  Why are you writing this paper? Why are you taking this class? Why should your reader pay attention to the points you make? In my experience, fulfilling the why is more important than your actual point of view or argument. In writing, justification (the why) is what matters. You can say anything. But if you don’t bother to state why you believe something or how you developed a conclusion, you are wasting everyone’s time with your words.

In the academic or the personal lives we lead, helping those around us know the why of our decisions can build a movement people can support. Knowing why the chicken crossed the road is more important than knowing the type of chicken or GPS coordinates of the road.  College is about developing minds to incorporate a wide variety of opinions and facts and experiences. Those who work with students to create a positive First Year Experience do better when they take the time to know the why of their work. Isn’t that why we chose to be right here, right now, in the first place?

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Filed under college teaching, higher education, leadership

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