Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

The Joy of Teaching


Mueller, Peter K


My grade eleven social studies class is about to enter the room. I enjoy this class, and if someone were to ask me why, I would have a ready answer. This group of students, as a group, seems genuinely interested and involved. There’s Wayne, who always seems to ask the right questions and seems to have read and thought about the issue at hand before we discuss it. There’s Carmen, so sincere and perplexed, who always wants to know more. There’s Shelley, alert and watchful for anything stupid, who jumps on any statement worth challenging. And there’s Stephen, the poet, musician, and music and cultural critic. And then there is also the subject material. Somehow, with this group of students, the material is allowed to come to life. Luther is not just a name, a date, an event, nor is he a composite of several finite, memorizable socio-economic, politico-religious factors. Luther lives, and his life and its consequences surround us and touch us in many ways. This stuff is worth hearing about.


I remember the day when, while looking at slides of Michelangelo’s works, the picture of the statues of the slaves came up. We paused and studied the picture. Someone said it was unfinished. Another person commented that it looked like it could never be finished because the straining figure within the stone had no room to raise its head. A third person then voiced what seemed like a revelation. The rough-hewn blocks of stone, with the figures of men struggling to rise out of them, are finished. The image of slavery-manstruggling desperately, irresolutely, to free himself-spoke loudly from the “incompleted” sculptures of Michelangelo! In that instant we seemed to feel a tangible sense of Michelangelo’s genius. This was an artist’s moving statement made hundreds of years before. We came to know, without any further words being spoken, the meaning of the “Renaissance man.” All the stories, the readings, the assignments about the Renaissance seemed to fall into place. The remaining ten minutes of the period seemed slightly euphoric, as if we had experienced something truly significant. A contented silence colored the classroom.


I enjoyed this class. There were, of course, many moments of less inspired, even boring existence, and moments of antipathy, but there were also many more moments of this sharing in learning. I enjoyed this class, and this description hints at some of the possible reasons for this enjoyment. But asking “why” I enjoyed this class is very different from asking “what” this enjoyment was like.


In this study I want to examine a moment in being a teacher-the moment of enjoyment as a teacher. Our normal approach in studying a phenomenon like the moment of enjoyment would be to pass through the moment itself, as we have done in the example above, and study the objects of the moment-the students, the course material, the relationships, the learning. Our aim in this normal approach would be to posit a connection between the objects of the moment and the experience of the moment. We would approach the moment of teaching enjoyment circuitously by attempting to describe the things in the lived world of the teacher which cause him to enjoy teaching, as if these factors explain the moment of teaching enjoyment. In effect, we would ignore the richness of the moment itself and assume that we understood the experience of enjoyment. In this study, by focusing on the actual moment, we attempt to avoid making causal assumptions. We set aside our interests in explaining the connection of experienced enjoyment to any external reality. The reality of the lived enjoyment-how the experience of enjoyment is given in the moment-is what interests us. We do not assume a causal connection between objective reality and our experience. The objective reality does not explain our feelings. Rather, it may be more correct to say that our feelings give meaning to, and make intelligible, our “objective” reality.


The moment which forms the substance of this study, then, is the moment of enjoyment. Our journey through the structures of this moment will culminate in reflections on the pedagogical significance of moments of enjoyment as a teacher.


To begin our study, let us focus more closely on the teaching moment described earlier. I am seated by the slide projector, showing slides of Renaissance artwork, making comments about style, theme, technique, and materials used. Students ask questions and make occasional comments. A relaxed mood characterizes the class. Then the Michelangelo slides appear. I talk briefly about several of the pictures, pointing out, in some of the close-up shots, the fine grooves in the seemingly smooth stone. The students begin to comment about the slave statues. Several comments follow in quick succession, and it seems as if the class is suddenly focusing more intently on a common theme. More comments and questions, and then-the moment of enjoyment! I am suddenly aware of enjoying myself. I seem to vacillate between enjoyment and being aware of enjoyment (reflection). What is the experience of this enjoyment like?


I note first of all that there is a point at which I first become aware of my being-in-joy, and this awareness is experienced as if a part of me is removed from me and, surveying my bodily sensations, announces the presence of enjoyment. A part of me states,”I am enjoying.” Thus, we find ourselves in joy, and this “finding ourselves” is like slowly awakening from a dream and finding ourselves in a fragrant, colorful meadow. We “know” we have been “in the meadow”-in joy-for awhile, but our becoming aware of being there almost seems to create the setting. Kierkegaard seems to point to this essential aspect of enjoyment when he says that “the essence of pleasure does not lie in the thing enjoyed, but in the accompanying consciousness.”


Enjoyment is always an enjoyment of something, but at various points in this consciousness, the focus shifts to my being in enjoyment. My self enjoying becomes the focus, whereas the particulars of the moment of enjoyment-the students, the subject-becomehorizonal. A recognition of a “me” occurs. This “me” is my “self” as seen in consciousness. Consciousness always consists of an “I” which is cognizing, and an object (“me” in this case) which is cognized and made the center of attention. This “I” of consciousness is not in consciousness directly however, because it is consciousness, but we can become aware of the “I” immediately after the “I” has acted (cognized) and become partof the “me.” We can speak of a “subject I” (cognizing) and an “object I” (cognized) and there is always a qualitative difference between the two. One need only think of the difference between living through a terrifying experience and talking about it afterwards. In talking about it we “see” a “me” living in terror and we can, in a sense, relive the terror, but we now “relive” knowing what is happening and what will happen. An objective element (something out there, in our “control”) provides the basis for our talking. This is qualitatively different from the actual lived experience, no matter how “accurate” we try to be in our description. The hearer of our talk unreflectively believes he “knows” and shares our feelings. He lives this hearing as if he shares the actual feeling. The actual experience is changed, even for the teller.


It is this quality of consciousness, this “cognizing I” which appears only after the living moment is passed and then only as part of the “me” which shows up the problem of reflectively analyzing an essentially unreflective act like enjoyment. There will always be an interpretive leap involved in this description. Our aim, however, is only to rigorously describe the experience while making no causal claims or assumptions and therefore, through reflection, to show more explicitly what is only implicit in the unreflective experience. Let us return, then, to our description.


I become aware that my body is enjoying. My body has been acting or reacting before my consciousness fully becomes aware of it. Once I become aware of my enjoying, I also notice that my world is changed. I not only enjoy the objects of enjoyment, the relationship, but the discussion, the whole world of here and now is colored with this enjoyment. Enjoyment is a submersion of the whole me into the experience. All of me, and my world, is bathed in the warmth of the experience.


The use of the word “warmth” here is significant. We somehow know that the warmth of enjoyment does not mean “not hot,” or “not cold.” It is not the same as the warmthof a warm room, the warmth of a warm engine, the warmth of a smile, the warmth of a swimming pool, or the warmth of a pair of boots in December. All of these “warmths” mean something different, and yet we automatically know the meaning of warmth in each situation. The word signals that its meaning to us within its context is everything. We know the meaning in each context and more words are not necessary. We know automatically the warmth of enjoyment. All who have ever enjoyed recognize this warmth.


In enjoyment we confer on the object of enjoyment a quality, a color, a tone, which then colors our consciousness. This in turn allows us to reconstruct the new objects of consciousness in line with this newly colored consciousness. The “qualities” we see are the sense, the meaning-for-us, of the object. To enjoy an experience with a student or a group of students is to see the experience as bathed in the affective tone of that meaning.The experience is seen as joyful and our being in it is surrounded by comfort, contentment, happiness, and pride.


In enjoyment a feeling of well-being rises to consciousness. A smile tugs at the mouth, and well-being seems to rise up from deep within me and then dissipates as it rises toward my throat. I can imagine how this could erupt in seemingly spontaneous shouts or in tears of joy if it were strong enough.


This last phrase, “if it were strong enough,” suggests varying intensity of enjoyment. This is true although there is no way to measure andcompare “enjoyments.” Each person’s enjoyment seems to exist at a particular sufficiency level. Enjoyment does not seem to ask for more of itself. Contentment accompanies enjoyment and the person feels, “This much enjoyment is as much as I need for now.”


I note also that the enjoyment is mine. It is not a matter of all of us in the classroom enjoying (although that may be); it is me enjoying that holds the focus of my attention. The enjoyment of a situation places me, affirms me as being in that situation, and affirms me in such a way as to orient me toward that situation. I bestow value on the particulars of the situation, and the particulars call out to me. Of the infinite number of possible particulars in my world here and now, these particulars in this situation call out to me, call me into their presence, and establish my mode of being in that moment. I am here, enjoying.


But the experience of enjoyment also calls my limits into being. It is “me” enjoying. This me-ness is separate from others and from things outside my body. This me-ness, this little island of perspectives, meanings, and possibilities, is enjoying. Yet, because enjoyment is a feeling which buoys up, reaches out, overflows into the world, it seems to want to push me out beyond this me-ness, and I want to pull others into my enjoyment. This, I come to realize as soon as I try it, cannot be. My enjoyment is essentially my enjoyment. For example, I have just completed a novel. I enjoyed it. I try to express my joy to my friend and soon realize that try as he might, and try as I might, my enjoyment is not transferable. I come to face the limits of my me-ness.


Sartre suggests that there is one emotion which is unique among emotions because it alone is reflective-anguish. All other emotions, he feels, are unreflective. Anguish arises when we are forced, through circumstances and the awareness of our power of negation (free will), to come face-to-face with the possibility of our own freedom and, hence, responsibility for our every action. Man is freed from determinism and causality and is now responsible and, thus, consciously in anguish.


Whereas anguish is a reflective emotion arising out of negation, enjoyment seems also at times to be a reflective emotion but one which arises out of an affirmation in response to negation. I have the freedom to choose, yes, but in enjoyment I choose to affirm this world rather than to comtemplate its negation. This world is mine and it draws itself toward me in enjoyment. Like opposite poles of two magnets which draw each other and come to embrace each other to form a “togetherness,” so enjoyment draws me and the object of enjoyment, the world of my enjoyment, together. Enjoyment, then, not only affirms my place in the world, with the world, it also shows the limits of my me-ness in this drawing together.


Enjoyment makes sense only when it is associated with an active, involved, in-control subject. Whereas joy possesses and overcomes, and the joyous person is not self-conscious and has abandoned self-control, enjoyment arises only when the person becomes aware of self-enjoying. The enjoying person is in touch, in tune, in control with his being-in-enjoyment. Self-control and self-consciousness seem to be essentials for the full being of enjoyment.


Before relating this analysis of the experience of enjoyment to pedagogy, which is our main interest in this study, let us summarize what has been said of enjoyment thus far.


  1. There is a moment of the awareness of being-in-joy.
  2. The “me-enjoying” becomes the object of consciousness.
  3. Enjoyment colors the subject’s world.
  4. Enjoyment affirms the subject and affirms the subject’s world.
  5. Enjoyment delimits the subject.
  6. Enjoyment always seems “self-satisfied.” It does not require more of anything.
  7. Enjoyment is a controlled rather than a controlling emotion.

How does this analysis of the experience of enjoyment relate to pedagogy? Our initial interest in this paper was to examine the significance of the moment of enjoyment, not just as enjoyment, but as enjoyment of a moment of teaching. Let us consider the moment of teaching as only the flip-side of the moment of learning. Teaching, then, is not that activity which makes learning possible: opening windows to a stuffy classroom, keeping order in the classroom, distributing “learning materials,” etc. All of these tasks are part of the teacher’s job, and for some they may be the source of their enjoyment as a teacher. But these things are not essentially teaching. Teaching as a pedagogic act is called into being through the learning of the student. Pedagogy calls the teacher to be an experienced, caring guide who leads children through rich fields of learning experiences. Pedagogically, the child is seen not as something to be filled, but as someone to be travelled with. Teaching-learning occurs for both partners, the guide and the guided, as a unitary experience, and, in fact, often the guide and the guided exchange places or explore learning experiences together. The artificial boundaries between teacher and learner become blurred in these moments, and we see how interrelated and interdependent teacher and learner are.


As a teacher I have had many moments of enjoyment like the one described at the beginning of this paper. These moments were moments when I felt that the students and I were experiencing something together. I felt we had arrived at a new insight, a new perspective which altered our lives in some small way. Learning of this type may be the kind of learning associated with the almost imperceptible altering of a prejudice. One moment you horizonally dislike someone or something, but the next moment you begin to realize that your dislike or disinterest is unfounded. It is like the refocusing of our perception-seeing something which has always been there but which only our being together revealed to us. The teacher sees these moments of learning in the spark of recognition, relief, satisfaction, and wonder in the eyes of his student, or in the seemingly innocent phrasing of a question, or the tentative answering of a question by his student. This is where the moment of enjoyment of teaching arises.


In normal lived experience we take for granted the assumption that others around us share our world and showtheir interpretations of that world through their emotional expressions. If we see a person crying, we assume, perhaps because of our own past crying experiences, that that person is unhappy or hurt. If we see someone enjoying, we assume, perhaps because of our past enjoying experiences and our learned modes of expressing enjoyment, that that person is enjoying. I say “perhaps” because I do not know how we come to know another person’s feelings, his “interiority.” In lived experience we have a kind of sense, a way of sensing the presence of certain qualities in others around us. We walk into a crowded room andwe experience a mood. We are introduced to a stranger and we experience a mood. We join a party and sense that different people in the gathering have different presences about them: One exudes confidence, another meanness, another detachedness, another longing. Is it the eyes? the smile? the angle of the head? Perhaps causal relations between body movements and positions, and emotional signals can betested and demonstrated, but that is beside the point here. We do experience the moods andemotions of others, unreflectively. And even if we often make mistakes, this intuitive reading is an aspect of our lived experiences with others. Students can sense, in thisway, a teacher’s enjoyment and this experience becomes part of their lived school experiences. I, as a student, see the adult enjoying; he is enjoying in my presence. I am a part of his enjoyment. My guide through learning enjoys his being with me. Could there be a greater incentive for continued travelling through the fields of learning ahead?


To enjoy a class is to constitute your world, which includes that class in that moment, as a joyful creation and to reaffirm your world and your place in that world. The enjoyment which arises from within you rebounds from the intentional objects back onto you, bathing you in its warm light. What do we see in the class that allows us to enjoy a class? There are certain representative qualities which contribute to the possibility of enjoyment-students perceived as friendly, interested, involved-but these qualities can be projections onto the situation by the enjoyment. Sartre speaks of feeling as an “affective-cognitive synthesis.” The objects of intentionality must provide some basis for this tonality in the first place, but the enjoyment of the situation projects its tonality on the objects of intention so that they are seen as enjoyable. An enjoying teacher is one whose teaching world, if not his entire world, is qualitatively different from the teacher who is not enjoying teaching. In W.O.Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind we see this difference in two teachers. The one is insensitive and bitter, her whole world is colored in this bitterness, and her being with children is poisoned by it. The other is alive and enjoys being with the children. Her teaching world is colored in vitality and enjoyment. Sartre alluded to this phenomenon when he wrote, “An emotion is a transformation of the world.” An enjoying teacher sees his world as enjoyable. He feels affirmed; he feels “called” to this place. He is where he should be.


The pedagogical relationship calls into being the teacher and the student, but this mode of being as teacher and as student is not self-sufficient. It is not just two people being for each other, but it is two people being with each other for a purpose. This purpose, simply put, is to allow the student to safely grow into a larger, more complex world, a world of which the teacher has some knowledge that he endeavors to offer the student.


The teacher as trusted guide has knowledge. It is “his” knowledge, and yet it is not experienced as merely subjective knowledge. It corresponds to a high degree to the knowledge that others hold. This knowledge, nevertheless, is “his” knowledge; it is cloaked in the thin veil of his meanings and the significances he has thrown over it. He has invested something of himself in it, and it therefore represents him. As the teacher endeavors to take this “my-knowledge” and pass it on to his students, enjoyment arises out of the recognition and acceptance of this part of him by the students. In some sense the me-ness, which we spoke of earlier, seems almost to be bridged in this experience. When I as a teacher see a pupil attach his meaning to “my-knowledge,” making it his own, I experience enjoyment as an instance of affirmation of self and a sharing of self with another, the pupil. My being as a teacher, as a guide to children, is confirmed and given significance.


Erich Fromm has spoken of joy as that feeling which we experience in the process of growing nearer to the goal of becoming what we can become. This joy is a sign, a portend, that I am on the road to becoming that which I can become. Am I coming closer to the essence of being a pedagogue when I enjoy teaching moments?