To me, teaching is a lot like golf.
What did I just say?! Wait, before you roll your eyes and abandon this page hear me out. Teaching is like golf in at least three ways. Let me show you why I feel this is true.
#1 - Stigma
Up front I must admit to being a golfer, that being said stay with me on this for a minute. When people look at golf, at the practice of golfing itself it doesn't look like much is going on (at least upon first glance); so the excitement level of watching golf is pretty low *feel free to insert your best hushed TV commentator voice here. To the casual observer golf looks dull and often people think because the exertion level is seemingly low golf must not be very difficult, that in fact it really isn't a sport. How does this relate to teaching? Well, if you have ever heard the phrase, "those who can't do, teach" then you are familiar with a similarly misinformed stigma about teaching, similar to the the stereotype golf faces. Watching someone teach can, and often is a similarly boring experience, and the quick assumption is that it must not be that difficult. *hushed voice, "Ooooo, that is a tough lie, it looks like they are going to use a transparency on this one."
#2 - Practice
Now that you are following along with my analogy try to remember the last time you had a really great teacher. I am not talking about a good teacher, I am talking about a great teacher. Can you remember one? If you can recall such a teacher what was it they were doing that made the teaching great? Now while you may have an answer to this in the end they are doing the same things other teachers do: talking, writing, questioning, discussing, et cetera. However, the difference is they have mastered the tools they are using to teach with. You can watch a great teacher speak and the subject comes to life. Give the same words to a different teacher and the effect disappears. What is the difference? The difference is this: the novice at the driving range for the first time and Tiger Woods winning the U.S. open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes. The difference = some natural talent + a lot of hard work and time. There are no quick fixes for a bad golf swing, not even that contraption out in the garage; you know the one the rep at the pro-shop sells to you, convincing you this device holds the secret to unlocking that swing. The swing that you know is just a few tweaks away. Tiger Woods himself said, "It's a process. Any time I've made a change in my golf swing, it's a process." (Dwyre 2010:1). This is one of the greatest golfers of all time telling us that it takes time, a lot of time. To dedicate that much time to becoming great at something requires conviction.
#3 - Love
In the end, to dedicate that much time to something takes love. If you don't love teaching you will soon learn to hate it, because teaching like golf is NOT as easy at it appears upon first glance. Like with golf, if you really want to teach you are going to fail, and fail a lot for awhile; but, like golf there are moments of pure inspiration despite the hardship. If you have ever crushed a drive straight down the center, chipped it in for eagle or birdie or sunk that 20ft. putt you know the feeling I am talking about. Similarly, if you have ever stood in front of a class and felt every eye riveted on you, lead that group discussion that produced some of the most thoughtful and inspired comments you've ever heard or had that student come up and say, "you changed my entire world view on X" you know what I am talking about here as well. Get a taste of that and I defy you to quit. Taste that and some part of you will fall in love with teaching. The trick is to cultivate that feeling, spending enough time working on "your game" so that you enjoy more of those inspiring moments than chance and the 95% confidence interval produces.
In sum, 1) teaching is not dull nor is it easy. To Mr. George Bernard Shaw I say, "you shanked it sir!" It should have read, "Those who teach (typically), can't." 2) It takes time to become a master at anything, teaching is no different. Raw talent will only get a person so far. To become truly great we must hone what we have. If you have an innate ability to stand up in front of a crowd and teach it is nonetheless good to develop that "teaching muscle memory," but even those who don't feel naturally gifted can become great if they spend the requisite time. Time and effort is key. 3) I love teaching. Once teaching has the necessary devotion only then can we truly commit to it the energy and passion it takes to master, and so I keep working at it one swing at a time.
Academic rigor is a primary goal.
I recognize that word-of-mouth suggests that I am a "hard" professor. True! But, for a purpose.
A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep.