Why Do I Teach?

Why do I teach? Because I’m not learn’d, not in the sense of Whitman’s astronomer. I’m more like his listener, who fidgeted:

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

A lover of the meaning, and not simply the word, I want to walk and lead through the beauty of the word to the beauty of the night.

Why do I teach? I hated school, but love exploring, and felt terribly misundersood as a student in a classroom that always seemed in agreement, seeing something other than what I was trying to convey:

I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

I hate schools, hate the walls of academe, hate that we decide upon knowledge while looking from a distance. But, human, I am drawn to what I hate—to best it, to change it.

Why do I teach? Lust for knowledge and beauty, I had and have, often unfulfilled, but fulfilling in their being and in the knowing of them:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

But don’t be depressed. There’s something beyond us, something we don’t know, sure. Something we can strive for and yet be warmed even by our failure.

Why do I teach? Because teaching is life, and:

To be alive is power,
Existence in itself,
Without a further function,
Omnipotence enough.

And learning wakes us to it.

Why do I teach? Because:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
For shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking largely sobers us again.

The spring, the source of knowledge and inspiration. And inspiration.

Why do I teach? Perhaps to be more than an individual ecstasy, but part of a continuity:

The body dies; the body’s beauty lives,
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.

Teaching makes it impossible to be simply one alone.

Why do I teach? When I watch others learning, I learn, and re-learn myself:

He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,
The epistemology of loss, how to stand up
Knowing what every man must one day know
And most know many days, how to stand up

I teach to learn to stand up myself.

Inspired by Free Exchange on Campus.

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