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The Trouble with Teaching: Is Teaching a Meaningful Job?

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Frederick William Sanderson was the headmaster of the Oundle School in England from 1892 to 1922. In a hagiographic biography, HG Wells celebrated him as ‘the greatest man’ he had ever known. If Wells’s reflections, and those of former pupils and colleagues, are anything to go by, Sanderson must have been an impressive figure. Consider, for example, the following recollection from a former student. Having been discovered taking notes in the school library after dark, Sanderson reprimanded the student for his breach of discipline but then, calming down, asked him what he was reading: He looked over the notes I had been taking and they set his mind going. He sat down beside me to read them. They dealt with the development of metallurgical processes, and he began to talk to me of discovery and the values of discovery, the incessant reaching out of men towards knowledge and power, the significance of this desire to know and make and what we in the school were doing in that process. We talked, he talked for nearly an hour in that still nocturnal room. It was one of the greatest, most formative hours in my life... 'Go back to bed, my boy. We must find some time for you in the day for this’  It’s hard not to be moved by this. Sanderson seems to have had a positive impact on his students. He cultivated a sense of wonder in them and, at least in this case, transformed their lives. He may be the quintessential example of a teacher whose career embodied the highest aspirations of that profession. I have been teaching at universities for over a decade. Although I have never bothered to count, I estimate that I have given over 1000 lectures/seminars and interacted with over 1500 students. When I started out, I was enthusiastic about teaching. I enjoyed the challenge of explaining difficult concepts; of facilitating lively discussions and debates; of encouraging the students (I would never call them ‘mine’ as some do) to think for themselves. Over the past decade, my. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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