They’re like a Big Bang moment.
They explode out of nowhere and then consume our existence. Some will be flash in the pans – guitars and skateboards gathering dust – while others burn bright for our entire lives. But unlike the Big Bang our passions do not just appear out of thin air. Someone, some place or something at sometime takes a hold of us and like a hungry dog with a bone just doesn’t let go.
Take a journalist out paving the pavement chasing stories for a big city newspaper. Where did their love of writing come from?
There’s a good chance if you trace it back you’ll find an incredibly passionate teacher sparked their love affair with words. Unbeknownst to their younger self as they jotted down make-believe stories in their textbook during those teacher’s fun creative writing classes, their life was actually being shot off on a course they’d only realise the full results of over a decade later.
Like the expansion of the universe, this one originating point grows into the world they inhabit. Now as an adult looking back, the confidence, self-worth and sense of identity they get from their journalism career were all in actual fact set in motion long before they had any idea they’d be seeing their byline grace the pages of their city’s newspaper. All thanks to that teacher.
This is a familiar story for many. Simply insert whichever occupation and the teacher who inspired them. But for others it’s painfully unfamiliar. And it’s because there’s one big thing many teachers are forgetting.
A study published last year in the journal of Psychology Research and Behaviour Management investigated the association between a teacher’s passion and their students’ passion. It looked into whether emotional contagion theory – the phenomenon whereby one person’s emotions, behaviours and attitudes directly trigger similar emotions, behaviours and attitudes in other people – applies in an educational setting.
The theory had already been used to show how entrepreneurs transfer their passion to their employees and how parents transfer their passion for the brands they use to their children.
Most people can probably think of a time where someone else’s passion for something has rubbed off on them. So how about a teacher in the classroom – can their passion for what they’re teaching rub off on their students?
The study found it can, saying “a teacher’s work passion can be translated into a student’s passion when students emulate or mimic the working behaviour of their favourite teachers (i.e. emotional contagion). Therefore, a teacher can serve as a role model by showing his/her genuine interest and enjoyment in teaching.”
It’s a point which goes to the heart of what good teaching is – inspiring.
Instead of just explaining a bunch of theory, a teacher lets their class know why they love teaching it. What is it about the numbers on the board, the tales from ancient history, the theories of economics, the words from Shakespeare or whatever else that fascinates them so much to get them into the classroom teaching about it? They answer this. In doing so, their passion becomes contagious.
With that in mind as part of our Year13 YouthSense research we surveyed young people aged 15 to 24 from across Australia about their experience with teachers in the classroom. We asked them what percentage of their teachers spoke to them about why they are passionate themselves about the subjects they teach.
The results contained in our After The ATAR III report found that on average students said just one in three of their teachers spoke to them about why they are passionate about the subjects they teach.
By these numbers it’s the exception rather than the rule. One of our survey respondents, a 17-year-old from Victoria, confirmed this was the case at her school.
“There were the few teachers who actually cared and were passionate about the stuff they were teaching,” she said.
“The energy that exuded from them energised and convinced us that it was worth listening and learning about.”
A 17-year-old from NSW said his teachers were a mixed bag.
“A lot of my teachers were just there to get paid,” he said.
“They saw it as a job rather than a way to help the future generation. While some of my teachers put a lot of effort into helping me and my peers to succeed, others just sat there and rambled on and lectured about topics we didn’t understand for the hour and then left.”
On the other hand a 19-year-old from Tasmania told us how all the teachers she was fortunate enough to have were extremely passionate about the subjects they taught.
“This was reflected in their everyday teaching in the classroom and in one-on-one chats,” she said.
“Being surrounded not only by people passionate about their job but also incredibly motivated to guide students into discovering their own passions sets an example and demonstrates how work can be meaningful and enjoyable if it is something an individual truly feels an affinity for.”
A 22-year-old from Queensland said it was what set teachers apart from each other.
“I believe that passion as an emotional state is profoundly infectious and charismatic which is why when we encounter teachers who have a genuine zeal for their subjects and for imparting knowledge it can be profoundly motivating and inspiring,” he said.
An 18-year-old from Queensland said how her teacher had given her the boost she needed to forge a career in science.
“My absolutely incredible chemistry teacher inspired me with her amazing and very infectious enthusiasm for the subject,” she said.
“I’m now just about to embark on a chemistry degree with a plan to go into research, and she’s almost as excited as I am for it.”
It goes to show when you have a teacher who just simply goes through the motions like a box ticking exercise, what hope do you really have of falling in love and wanting to dive deeper into the subject? What hope do you have of succeeding at it?
On the other hand, a passionate teacher can be the one who sets off your lifelong passion for what they teach even when you might have had no interest in it before. They create the Big Bang moment. They create new worlds in your mind. They create your future.
The new Year13 Post-School Planner helps connect students to careers and post-school options built around their personality, skills, interests and passions to alleviate the stress and uncertainty of finishing high school. The free online post-school plans have been developed to help young people develop a pathway forward unique to them. Share it with any high school students you know to help get them started on their first steps into the real world.