Passion, and other ways to make perfectly fine folks feel inadequate



Passion is a hot currency in the modern world.  It sets the great apart from the average.  It’s touted as the solution to everything.  It makes life more fulfilling.  Funny thing about passion, though.  Not everybody has it.  It’s not all that easy to come by, either, contrary to what its prevalence might suggest.  It seems like everybody these days has passion, especially if you’re that one person sitting around without it.

Dr. Shelli Fowler writes that passion, along with preparation and energy (the latter of which I have limited reserves of as well) are the three keys to good teaching.  Of course this is true.  I can think of incredible teachers who inspired me using these very traits.  So I have to ask how to resolve this within myself, as I consider teaching to be one of my strongest abilities.  I am not particularly passionate, in the sense of having a passion or acting impassioned.  I am an introvert who musters energy as needed, but I won’t go so far as to be inauthentic.  Yet teaching is so much a part of how I present in the world that I’ve been called “teacher” in my roles as supervisor, administrator, friend, and student.  How can both of these truths occupy the same space?

I’d like to propose an amendment to the three keys because I’ve recently started to put language to my feeling about my teaching orientation, and I think I have some helpful insights to offer.  Seymour Papert would call this inexact, qualitative information that might enhance our knowing (and if there’s anything I have that resembles a passion, it’s pushing the world to give a wider embrace to multiple ways of knowing).  I’ll just call it my truth.  My three keys to complement Fowler’s original and very legitimate keys are connection, reflection, and openness.

Connection – making students feel known and noticed in the classroom.  Like their contributions matter.  Whether it’s knowing names, sharing meaningful feedback, or showcasing student work, there are strategies for classrooms big and small.

Reflection – being constantly reflective about your teaching work, the climate and context of your classroom, and the ways students are engaging.  For me, this is a constant hum in my head behind all other actions.

Openness – Be constantly curious.  Let it lead you to be open to new ideas, to a student’s challenge, to different ways of knowing, to chucking the lesson plan, to taking advantage of “teachable moments” (yea for student affairs’ favorite buzzwords).

For those fellow teachers out there who share my lurking sense of inadequacy over not really being sure how to answer the question, “what’s your passion,” I offer this perspective.  Maybe the act of teaching is our passion.  Maybe we just never thought to call it that because it just is who we are.  Oliver Segovia wrote in the Harvard Business Review that to find happiness, we should forget passion and look instead to devoting our energies to make meaningful contributions in our world*.  For me, leveraging my abilities to connect, reflect, and push myself to stay open are the ways I can serve.  Susan Cain might call me a “Quiet” teacher, and I’d say thank you for telling the world of our secret powers.  One of my most tried and true personal mantras is that there are a lot of right ways to do a thing, and only a few truly wrong ways.  Sarah E. Deel struck a chord with me as she reflected on the development of her own teacher identity:

“At a more abstract level, I embraced the idea that there are many ways to be an effective teacher.”

It’s not either/or.  It’s both/and.  And I’m happy to continue giving voice to my authentic teaching self.

*I pretty much read everything I can on passion, or the lack of it.  Despite my tough face that passion isn’t all that important, I’d still love to have it and its magic powers.  If you would like additional perspectives on passion, I’m happy to provide links.  

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