Forget passion — it’s about engagement

We hear the word “passion” a lot.1 It used to belong in boudoirs and on dance floors. Now it’s in teacher resumes and in job descriptions. Teachers’ “passions” run the gamut from corporal punishment2 to iPads to microchemistry to “flipped” classrooms. And that’s okay.

But we can’t be passionate about everything. I am not passionate about taking the garbage out or feeding my cat or marking exams. But to get the job done effectively, I need to be engaged.

We need to model engagement — with the material we teach and with our students. We need to show our charges that we are dialed-in to what we are supposed to be doing. In class, we can’t be checking our phones or ordering motorcycle parts.

In my mind, letting students wear headphones while they work hardly fosters engagement with the task at hand or with one’s classmates. I’ve had students tell me, “I work better when I listen to music”, or “Mr. What’s-his-name lets me wear headphones.” My comeback is some version of “We have a small amount of time together each week — let’s make the most of it.”

Chit-chat during labs is another engagement-killer. The events of last weekend or the proposed events of this weekend or the performance of the over-paid, under-performing local sports franchise, while interesting, have no place in a chemistry activity. Students are in the lab for a limited time — let them capitalize on it. (My response to this all-too-common occurrence is taken from a sign posted at the Springfield Retirement Castle on The Simpsons: “Thank you for not discussing the outside world.”)

In addition, we can foster student engagement by making our physical space free of distraction. How can students learn at their best when a fume hood fan is running unnecessarily? No one can tell me that a messy classroom — with crooked posters, old textbooks piled in a corner and a front bench that looks like a cyclone hit — fosters learning.

Maybe we can get passionate about seizing another teachable moment: the meaning of engagement and how it manifests itself.


  1. I recently came across an advertisement for a job that required “… a burning desire…”. No, they weren’t looking for arsonists.
  2. Just kidding.