Character and passion for teaching

Yesterday, I met up for lunch with a former education student, Jenny. Jenny was as exuberant as ever. When I asked her how she managed to keep up her passion for teaching after all these years, she replied, without a moment of thought, “As long as it is something that students will benefit from, I will totally pour myself into it.”

Jenny has taught for some years already, but she is even more zesty than a first-year teacher. She has inexhaustible energy for her work. She possesses a wide array of professional competencies, and has taken on a variety of curriculum leadership roles, but she will jump at the first opportunity to try something new. On top of serving her own school, she is now part of a Hong Kong University’s project providing school-based support for teachers teaching non-Chinese-speaking students.

When I probed further and asked her what gave her all that drive, she attributed it to her own character. I was not totally content with this answer, which is a purely innate quality. I wanted to look for some generalisable factors that can be applied in other work contexts and across people whatever their character. So I pushed Jenny to think harder. At last, Jenny came up with this example. If after going through some school-based planning with teachers, she sees that the teaching design works well in the classroom so that the students learn happily and effectively, this will give her a great sense of satisfaction.

This indirectly supports the current view of many writers on motivation who highlight 3 external factors that give people drive: autonomy (having the space to decide on how to go about one’s work); mastery (the possibility to get better and better at what one is doing); and purpose (being able to see the meaning of one’s work). For me, Jenny’s example is saying that if on top of these factors, you also have the right character – that will give you the lifelong passion.