Why Do Teachers Teach?

Teaching is the stuff of life. It is the nature of our being. It’s in our DNA, and it ensures the survival of our species. It is natural, subconscious, and the means through which we grow, evolve, and expand human consciousness. It is the food of the soul, the life of the mind, and the heartbeat of the world we live in. Life is all about self-expression. To teach is to learn twice – which gives us a lovely feedback loop and a philosophical reference to the cycle of life.

Parents naturally teach their babies and children. Children teach each other. Artists, writers, poets and musicians find subtle ways to teach in ways that touch the hearts and souls of those around them. Much of this ‘teaching’ comes through social interaction on one hand, and subtler forms of spirit on the other hand.

One quote from a fellow teacher, Michael Butler, kind of pinpoints how I feel about this:

There are four aspects of the human experience that I wish to explore here today. Two aspects can be referred to as the ‘me’ and ‘we’ of teaching, and are inspired by the book ‘Mindsight’, by Daniel J. Siegal. The other aspects refer to levels of personal experience by Robert Dilts, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Whatever I mention here is also a reflection of feedback from teachers around the world who have given me their personal answers to this question on facebook and linkedin.

See this presentation to get a glimpse of global teaching thoughts and dreams.

It’s very interesting to see multi-cultural definitions of teaching from around the world, and heartening to see so much soul and insight. This large presentation could be kept as a daily ‘look at teaching for those moments when we ask ourselves ‘why?‘.

We often spend time sharing quotes from famous writers, yet fail to appreciate our own insights. I will use these quotes (as in the presentation above) as a store of influence to post in my language group on Facebook on a daily basis.

Having read all of the responses from teachers around the world, including ,of course, teachers from the ELT-T MOOC course, I don’t believe that we can answer a question about human motivation without attempting an understanding of the deeper nature of our being. We are all familiar with the ‘tip of the iceberg’ analogy and its usage in the English language.

Yet, as people, we struggle to get beneath the surface, and many of us remain aware of a life experience that exists only on the surface of the mind. I believe that teaching is about dipping below the surface of ‘today’s reality’ and awakening a sense of possibility and wonder in those around us.

This is true, both for those in the teaching profession, and the rest of the world, where people naturally ‘teach’ through human interaction.

It was David Ddeubelbeiss who mentioned the hierarchy of needs.

“For me, all human action is selfish. I don’t mean that in the sense of “bad”. I mean that we do the things we do consciously or unconsciously because we get something from it. Evil or good. Of course for teachers – a pay check is the top reason we teach. We have to take care of our hierarchy of needs. We are only human. But after that, so much is game. “

The interesting paradox I found when reading through the many responses of teachers around the world was the positive mention of the word selfish. It’s certainly wise to realise that ‘selfishness’ can also be seen as a natural expression of the self. To deny this is to keep your world ‘experience forever on the dry surface of a life that should be teeming with layers of depth and inspiration.

However, as David implies in the hierarchy of needs, we cannot go diving into the depths if we don’t have enough oxygen. Therefore I’m first going to talk about the pay check.

The Pay Check: It may be true that many teachers go into the profession looking for security and a respectable paycheck. This can even be a reality (in a modest sense) in places such a Scandinavia, Ireland or other European countries. As a starting point, this is natural, as you are taking care of your physiological and safety needs. Yet, I often think about the amazing teachers around the world who exhibit tremendous soul and passion despite the fact that their salaries may not even begin to cover their most basic of needs. In fact, many people earn their salaries in a different occupation and continue to teach either freelance or voluntarily to fulfil their deeper needs. I believe that as humans, we have become capable of reversing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or at least blurring its distinctions. For some people it may be easier to deny the flesh than the spirit; but no teacher should have to do either.

The fact that teachers are forced to ‘bargain with the devil’ and choose soul denial in order to fulfill basic needs, is just proof that education is not teaching.

Education as we know it in many parts of the world is still trapped in Pink Floyd’s “Wall”.

The Love: When I was younger I decided that I would never be a writer because it would never fulfil my own basic needs. I kept myself trapped on the lowest rung of Maslow’s pyramid. I kept my spirit alive by reading and teaching as much as I could. Teaching was my outlet to share what I learnt. I think that it’s against human nature to just learn and not share one’s knowledge. Writing is a form of teaching too, as is art, drama, or any other skillset or form of knowledge in the world; once it’s shared in one way or another.

Today with my blogging, content creation and first steps into publishing, I feel free at last. There are many ways to teach and express yourself, but in the end, it’s all about the human need to share.

Let’s look at this iceberg in relation to the hierarchy of needs. This is going to be very useful in capturing both the practical and loftier motivations for our teaching. Strangely enough, the iceberg kind of reverts the pyramid created by Maslow, yet they both refer to the same thing. Maybe the iceberg is for those of us who prefer to dive rather than climb mountains *winks*.

The iceberg image also shows the levels of consciousness, so it visualises our deeper nature.

The Purpose: I think that teaching is a powerful way to express one’s purpose. If you feel that teaching is just a means to an end, you will remain trapped at the surface. Let’s say you have enough oxygen to go deeper, how do you know what to look for, where to reach, or how to connect?

It starts with the ‘ME’ in teaching. You’ve got to uncover your inner values. Here is an exercise I learnt from ‘NLP for teachers’ by Richard Churches and Roger Terry.

Another amazing resource to help you look deeper into your own values as a teacher is ‘ Zen And The Act Of Teaching’ by David Ddeubelbeiss. The book has greatly influenced me, and I have ideas for future collaborative projects based on this unique book for teachers.

When you become reunited with your own unique purpose, you’ll realize that the ‘ME’ needs a ‘WE’.

rippleforT
Image credit: Joe Ormonde Sheosamh

“Today we can actually track scientifically the neural dimensions of our narrow definitions of self. When our resonance circuits are engaged, we can feel another’s feelings and create a cortical imprint that lets us understand what may be going on in the other’s mind – because it is like ours – and our mind and our brain turn on our mindsight mechanism”. Daniel J. Siegal.

The idea of humanity as a collective consciousness goes back to my introduction about the nature of our being. For me, this is the ultimate ‘WHY’ of teaching. My inner teaching values resonate deeply with the following quote from Daniel J. Siegal.

“ Without mindsight we see others as ‘them rather than ‘us’. We literally do not activate the very circuits we need in order to see another person as having an internal mental life.

This shutting off of the circuits of compassion may be one explanation for our violent history as a species. Under threat we may distort what we see in others, project our own fears onto their intentions, and imagine they will harm us.” ~ Daniel J Siegal.

When our inner sense of self is fulfilled, I believe that we can reach out to the world with mindsight, unleashing cascades of mirror neurons that will resonate with the best in humanity for the good of all.

Ultimately, teaching is about spirit, peace and helping one another. I believe that with today’s technology we can reach out to each other more than ever before. I wish us all luck in diving down into the icy depths of ourselves while simultaneously shooting back up to the top of Maslow’s pyramid.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Michael Gyori.

“Teaching is ultimately, perhaps, a glimmer of a path to mutual understanding, critical thought, and most importantly, peaceful coexistence: humanity’s greatest challenge.”

…and some words about my fellow teachers and writers who have helped this article transform into a collaborative project.

Sean Hampton-Cole, a fellow traveller in the 30 EduGoal movement was inspired to write his own heart-felt article. To switch from my universal perspectives into a more experiential viewpoint, please read Sean’s personal account here.

Many people have complimented me on the title of this article, so I must give credit where it’s due. Navleen Kaur, my blog manager, often thinks up topics for me to cover, so this title was her brain-child. I love my blogging team on WizIQ and I think that we are helping each other to express the best in ourselves.

Many thanks to my online network of teachers who contributed to this massive mindmap of inspiration.

Please feel free to add your own insights in the comment boxes below.

______________________________________________


is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

Comments

  1. We are writing a book on professional development and we would like to send a permission request to adapt your iceberg graphic for use in our book on intentional teaching. Please contact me at this e-mail with the process to do so. Thank you.

    sandy.heidemann@mnpartners.org

  2. No one has ever asked me why I teach. I never wanted to be a teacher in school, but I have always loved sharing information. I became a teacher because my mom said there were long term monetary benefits. But… I didn’t become a teacher for that reason. I gave teaching a chance and stuck with it because I fell in love with each and everyone of my students. I teach because I care about the students that enter my classes.

  3. No one has ever asked me why I teach. I never wanted to be a teacher in school, but I have always loved sharing information. I became a teacher because my mom said there were long term monetary benefits. But… I didn’t become a teacher for that reason. I gave teaching a chance and stuck with it because I fell in love with each and everyone of my students. I teach because I care about the students that enter my classes.

  4. Viviana @knowinger.com Says: October 22, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Great article, very inspiring. I can see a lot of love for sharing in it 🙂

  5. Viviana @knowinger.com Says: October 22, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Great article, very inspiring. I can see a lot of love for sharing in it 🙂

  6. Khalil Jibran Says: August 22, 2013 at 2:30 am

    If I could pen just one paragraph in a lifetime like Mam Sylvia I think I would die with a contented smile. Good job mam! 🙂

  7. Khalil Jibran Says: August 22, 2013 at 2:30 am

    If I could pen just one paragraph in a lifetime like Mam Sylvia I think I would die with a contented smile. Good job mam! 🙂

  8. Mohammad Abdu Al-Mekhlafi Says: August 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    A splendid article.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:21 am

      Thank you Mohammad – the power of collaboration and sharing, I think;)

      There’s nothing more inspiring that a common vision made up of individual gems of insight and experience!!

  9. Mohammad Abdu Al-Mekhlafi Says: August 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    A splendid article.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:21 am

      Thank you Mohammad – the power of collaboration and sharing, I think;)

      There’s nothing more inspiring that a common vision made up of individual gems of insight and experience!!

  10. interesting!! thanks for sharing it! I absolutely agree with you!
    Silvia

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Thank you, Silvia.

      There was certainly a common thread of motivation here; even though all teachers gave different responses:))

  11. interesting!! thanks for sharing it! I absolutely agree with you!
    Silvia

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Thank you, Silvia.

      There was certainly a common thread of motivation here; even though all teachers gave different responses:))

  12. Really a great article,got fruitful information, i was thinking a bit different from it before i read it.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Thanks Ali,

      That’s what I love about reading – when some really makes me think or even changes my outlook for the better…and encourages me to try new things,,,.:))

  13. Really a great article,got fruitful information, i was thinking a bit different from it before i read it.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Thanks Ali,

      That’s what I love about reading – when some really makes me think or even changes my outlook for the better…and encourages me to try new things,,,.:))

  14. A stratospheric realisation worthy of deep thought. Thank you.

  15. A stratospheric realisation worthy of deep thought. Thank you.

  16. Sylvia, This is a great article! :-). Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I do agree with you that technology enables us to reach out much further than ever before. It really is astonishing how we can now impact each other not just be our energy ( which has always been the case) but now by our words and deeds, which more and more people can be a privy to.

    What I believe is that we need to put more emphasis on ascertaining the effects of our interventions. As we have seen in many fields of endeavour, technology is a double edged sword, it can do great good but it can also do the opposite. In education it is no different.

    Without working out how we can be transformative, rather than accumulative, in our face to face teaching, there is little chance we can ever achieve that in the virtual world.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for the though-provoking response – it’s actually worth writing of another article just to ponder to words……

  17. Sylvia, This is a great article! :-). Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I do agree with you that technology enables us to reach out much further than ever before. It really is astonishing how we can now impact each other not just be our energy ( which has always been the case) but now by our words and deeds, which more and more people can be a privy to.

    What I believe is that we need to put more emphasis on ascertaining the effects of our interventions. As we have seen in many fields of endeavour, technology is a double edged sword, it can do great good but it can also do the opposite. In education it is no different.

    Without working out how we can be transformative, rather than accumulative, in our face to face teaching, there is little chance we can ever achieve that in the virtual world.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for the though-provoking response – it’s actually worth writing of another article just to ponder to words……

  18. Diaw Djiby Says: August 16, 2013 at 1:11 am

    very interesting. thanks a lot for sharing all about teaching. you’re helping teachers from all around the world. you are a worldwide teacher.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:26 am

      Thanks a lot Diaw,

      Technology certainly helps us to reach out – helping teachers means reaching more students you’ve never even met – isn’t that wonderful??

  19. Diaw Djiby Says: August 16, 2013 at 1:11 am

    very interesting. thanks a lot for sharing all about teaching. you’re helping teachers from all around the world. you are a worldwide teacher.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:26 am

      Thanks a lot Diaw,

      Technology certainly helps us to reach out – helping teachers means reaching more students you’ve never even met – isn’t that wonderful??

  20. very lovely, should be included in every first day class at College for teachers. Thought provoking and really helps you to admit..inspite of not being rich from this ..It is fulfilling.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:28 am

      We need lovely thoughts to keep our teaching spirit alive O’Gilvie…..

      Sharing those thoughts online makes so much sense – I really love it!!

  21. very lovely, should be included in every first day class at College for teachers. Thought provoking and really helps you to admit..inspite of not being rich from this ..It is fulfilling.

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:28 am

      We need lovely thoughts to keep our teaching spirit alive O’Gilvie…..

      Sharing those thoughts online makes so much sense – I really love it!!

  22. Thank you! Very useful and interesting information.

  23. Thank you! Very useful and interesting information.

  24. Great text! I also never thought thst I would be a teacher….but I am an English teacher in Poland..and even it doesn’t fulfil my needs sometimes I love it..it’s hard nowadays to find job as a teacher..cause less children=less classes=less teachers….but I still have a hope becuse its the best job, passion…
    Paulina

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Hi Paulina,

      Yes – actually that word probably sums up all of our teacher responses in the presentation and other blogs…..PASSION

      That really cool…!!!

  25. Great text! I also never thought thst I would be a teacher….but I am an English teacher in Poland..and even it doesn’t fulfil my needs sometimes I love it..it’s hard nowadays to find job as a teacher..cause less children=less classes=less teachers….but I still have a hope becuse its the best job, passion…
    Paulina

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Hi Paulina,

      Yes – actually that word probably sums up all of our teacher responses in the presentation and other blogs…..PASSION

      That really cool…!!!

  26. Great post Sylvia – enjoyed it with my morning coffee and muffin. Definitely a keeper and will share with all the aspiring teachers. I usually ask this question first week to all my students (teachers) and always the want to help others, the age old “calling” for vocation is top of the list. But always surprised by what’s number 2 – a family member or someone I respect is/was a teacher. Seems there is a strong desire to identify with those we value, identify through our job. Teaching, like any job, lends identity and this is a powerful reason why teachers choose and keep teaching. so much of the deep reasons of our actions are rooted in the stories we tell ourselves, the inner make up we put on!

    David

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: August 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      I really appreciate the feedback David:))

      Actually there were no teachers in my family, but my mother is a peaceful nurturer who has raised countless children beyond myself and my seven siblings; we grew up teaching each other, and now my kids do the same….

      So I suppose it was a different kind of teaching!!

    • Mariela Lauria Says: August 17, 2013 at 5:01 am

      Thanks Sylvia….. u made me cry!!! Excellent article!! Great, moving…. realistic!!! Love it….. You have it In YOu!! 🙂

      • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:30 am

        Wow!!

        This passion for teaching runs deep – your response means so much to me Mariela – you must be a wonderful teacher indeed!!

  27. Great post Sylvia – enjoyed it with my morning coffee and muffin. Definitely a keeper and will share with all the aspiring teachers. I usually ask this question first week to all my students (teachers) and always the want to help others, the age old “calling” for vocation is top of the list. But always surprised by what’s number 2 – a family member or someone I respect is/was a teacher. Seems there is a strong desire to identify with those we value, identify through our job. Teaching, like any job, lends identity and this is a powerful reason why teachers choose and keep teaching. so much of the deep reasons of our actions are rooted in the stories we tell ourselves, the inner make up we put on!

    David

    • Sylvia Guinan Says: August 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      I really appreciate the feedback David:))

      Actually there were no teachers in my family, but my mother is a peaceful nurturer who has raised countless children beyond myself and my seven siblings; we grew up teaching each other, and now my kids do the same….

      So I suppose it was a different kind of teaching!!

    • Mariela Lauria Says: August 17, 2013 at 5:01 am

      Thanks Sylvia….. u made me cry!!! Excellent article!! Great, moving…. realistic!!! Love it….. You have it In YOu!! 🙂

      • Sylvia Guinan Says: September 2, 2013 at 11:30 am

        Wow!!

        This passion for teaching runs deep – your response means so much to me Mariela – you must be a wonderful teacher indeed!!

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