Why I do what I do… A reaffirmation, sort of

I teach for a living.

To be more exact, I teach university students, or as they call it in Bahasa Indonesia, my native language: Mahasiswa.

Why teach?

Why indeed. Maybe it’s in the genes. My Dad just recently retired as a University Professor at the age 70 so there you go.
Oh, growing up, I had the requisite childhood dreams: Be a doctor, be a psychologist, be a … But as far as dreams go, “be a teacher” was never one of them.

Until I was accepted at the Department of Biology at the Faculty of Math & Nat Sciences, University of Indonesia. I won’t go into the “Why Biology?” here, but the moment I knew where I was accepted I immediately thought, “OK, study here, then apply to teach so that I could go to grad school.”

How selfish can a person get? There was no indication of a commitment to better education, no love of imparting knowledge & wisdom, no intention of “mencerdaskan kehidupan bangsa” (rough translation: build a better nation in the future), nothing. I didn’t know what teaching entailed, what kind of commitment it was (still is).

First, let me tell you straight away, to be a teacher actually requires a love (for lack of a better word) for teaching, because you certainly can’t be in it for the money. Oh we teachers can survive on our salary as a teacher…if you can call having an empty savings account by the end of the month and can’t wait for the 1st of the month, surviving. It is no secret that University teachers/professors supplement their teaching income with other projects (that sometimes don’t involve facing students).

Did I have that love? I still can’t fully answer the question. However, two recent events gave me an “A-ha! moment!” (to borrow a phrase from Oprah Winfrey).

The first event was a visit from two former engineering students. I didn’t officially supervise their work, but mainly taught them some basic microbiology techniques. After a few weeks, they left the micro lab to start their final projects. I only heard from them a few times more and then nothing until a few weeks ago they asked to meet me. Thinking that they might still need some help I said “Sure” while thinking “What now???”. Well, guess what… they came to tell me that they had graduated and came to give me a present as a token of appreciation for helping them! It was ballpoint pen with my name engraved on it. This will sound so corny, but there was a lump in my throat caused by their thoughtfulness.
The other moment came yesterday when I got an email from another former student. It was a long rambling email, talking about his recent activities (quitting from a job, running a family business…). Near the end, he wrote “I’m very excited at what I’m doing right now, and I want to thank the microbiology lab for one of my finest moments that helped me to be who I am.” Again I was moved to near tears…

So I think I have found the reason, why I do what I do… helping other people find their way to become what they want to be, is, ladies and gentlemen, why I am a teacher.

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