Teaching is My Calling


he other day, I mentioned that teaching–to me–was a calling. Indeed, I view it more as something that I was born to do rather than something I was trained to do. It’s hard to explain. I just love imparting whatever knowledge I have to anyone.

LightPinkSheep: Where do you teach? Do you have to do research also? I am starting a Ph.D. program next year, I’ll be TA-ing for the first time and scared to see how it will all work out. So far I’ve only taught 1-2 classes per summer and been able to devote lots of time to the class.

I teach at a university in Washington DC. I am full-time contract, which is different than tenured or tenure track, so I am not required to do research. But to get anywhere in this business, you must do research. My particualr research is late classical/early medieval Japanese poetry. As you might imagine, the demand for such research is pretty low, so I focus on my teaching. I may not get promoted bevcause of this, but I enjoy what I do. Good luck in your PhD program.

iiSoNySoUnDii: Don’t know if this was asked before, but was teaching always your intended career? Do you enjoy it? I’ll be starting my masters/phD program for East Asian history in about a year in a half and I too want to teach. Any gripes about the job or an exceptional pluses to it? Do I babble too much? Why is gas so damn expensive?!

Hahahah, maybe you’re babbling just a little. And I don’t know why gas is so expensive. Ask our president. But as to you first questions: No, teaching was not always my intended career. I wanted to be a rock star! Of course, an Asian American rock star had no prospects in the 70s, so it was pretty easy to give up on it. But seriously, I may have mentioned this before, but you should know that i was a total screw up in high school and could not get into college with my grades. So I had to first go to a junior college and then work my way up to a four-year college. Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I planned to do what every other Japanese American was doing ack then: go into business administration at a local university, which for me would have been Cal State LA. I had the great fortune to meet a Professor V. Perez (bio-human anatomy) at the junior college who saw something in me that urged him to encourage me to set my goals higher. I got into UCLA and the rest is history…

I enjoy what I do because I love to teach. It is, as I said, a calling, something I was meant to do. This is important because teaching has its drawbacks. Pay is low. Seriously low. I figure anyone in any other field who has studied as much as to earn a Ph.D. is likely earning six figures. I don’t even get half that. And some get even less than I do. It is a shame because I feel that teaching is the first line of defense in preventing our society from tumbling into ignorance and mediocrity. It’s too bad that the people with power don’t weem to feel the same way. Also, the hours could suck, depending on how much you will be required to teach. Many look at me and laugh, thinking I only work when I teach class which is 10 to 15 hours a week. They don’t consider the time it takes to prepare for class, grade papers and exams, advise students, write letter of recommendations, and a score of other adminstrative duties. Also, the adage “publish or perish” is very true and the pressure to publish is great. And may I remind you that since money is tight in education, the politics that one sees in the department can be very disheartening, indeed.

So why do I stay in education? I love to teach and I love my students. There is nothing like imparting to inquisitive minds things that you know. Indeed, I tell my students that they are way ahead of me when I was their age. And I will give them what I didn’t get: solid explanations of grammar. I was raised in a time when native speakers taught Japanese. They spoke Japanese well, of course, but they couldn’t explain it. When we would ask a question, fi they didn’t have an explanation, they’d just say, “That’s how Japanese is. Just memorize it.” Aaargh! how I used to hate that! So my students have the benefit of learning from someone who was just like them–I learned in college too–so I encourage them to strive and I fully expect them to surpass my Japanese ability. If they do, I feel that I’ve done my job. You gotta love this job to stick with it. Good luck in your Ph.D. program, too.

SunJun: Always been a fan. I’ve got a question: how did you end up at your current place of employment? Most prof-types, especially those employed at more prestigeous universities, tend to have a choice when it comes to places to work. Was it the school? Location? Little of both? Something else entirely?

Aaaah. If only I was working at a prestigious university. Well, Japanese is a field that is not very big. From what I understand, there are jobs for only 10% of all Japanese PhDs–language, literature, history, anthropology, art history, religion, et al–looking for a position in any given year. That was a tough market ten years ago. It must be even harder now. So I came to DC because this is where the job was. Pretty straigh forward, no? I applied to the university and they offered me a job my first time on the market. I was pretty lucky. To top it off, the university was located in our nations capital. It sounds pretty nice, don’t you think? But they work me like a dog…

Momo5: I’ve always wanted to know, how do you continue to be able to put yourself on the same level as your students? It’s the coolest thing ever. Most professors are so detached and superior, and most parents too, but you’re so easy to relate to. I want to be like you when I’m older. ^_^

Okay you guys, this is exactly the reason why I love to teach. To get flattered by students like Momo5. I’m telling ya’, it is sooooooooo much fun to be surrounded by young people all the time. They keep my spry… well, as spry as a soon-to-be 50-year old can be. But to be complimented by someone like Momo–she’s gonna kill me, but she is really cute… *sigh* At my age and my position, I could never do anything that would even hint at a suggestion of the appearance of any impropriety–I never close my office door when a female student is in my office, no matter what the subject might be. But that doesn’t stop me from chatting with them or basking in the radiance of their presence. Actually, I feel the same way with my male students as well. They are, to me, adorable, as only a father can adore a son.

The bottom line is that I just love to be with my students. It is, perhaps, this feeling that I have for all my students that allows me to indulge myself, to put myself at “the same level” as them.