Teaching and the Joy of Repeating Oneself

One of the most frequent questions I get asked about teaching is, don’t you get tired of teaching the same things year after year?

The answer is a resounding No. I never get tired of it. In fact, the repetition is part of what I enjoy about my job. I am in my 22nd year as a professor of English at Azusa Pacific University. Before that, I taught for five years at Olivet Nazarene University. Before that, I taught part-time for three years at Purdue University while I was a graduate student. I have been teaching non-stop since I was 21 years old. If I were going to get tired of it, I think it would have happened by now.

I teach various courses in American literature. Some of the writers I teach change from year to year, but most of them stay the same. The individual works we cover from those great writers are also sometimes different as semesters go by, as anthologies are updated and as I shift my focus in the courses. But even if the writers and works stayed exactly the same, I still wouldn’t mind.

One of the things I love about teaching a work I have taught before is that through repetition, I learn what does and does not work in the classroom. I learn which questions provoke the most fruitful discussions, which areas of inquiry lead to the richest understanding of the work, and which issues fall flat and are best avoided. I know what responses to anticipate and can be ready for where I will lead the discussion no matter what direction it heads. Each time of teaching the work becomes, in one sense, a performance that I can hone and improve.

Because I teach the same authors, I also have gathered a wealth of material about each one over the years—new articles, photos, biographical information, popular culture references, and so on. I end up with far more information than I can ever use for each writer, but that allows me to fill the class period with rich material.

The Same—But Always Different

I have been emphasizing what I enjoy about the repetition of teaching, but as any literature teacher knows, no class is ever really the same twice. No matter how much I approach a literary work in the same way I taught it before, it always comes out a little different. Last semester I taught the same class two hours in a row, and even one hour later, with a different audience, it was a whole new experience.

In this sense teaching literature is like a basketball or football game. Athletes—and fans—know that no game is ever the same. That’s why players keep playing and fans keep watching. They like the repetitive aspects of the experience, such as the fact that the football game always has four quarters, the same number of players, the same rules, and so on. But each game is its own separate drama that unfolds in unexpected ways.

People who ask whether I get tired of teaching the same literature over and over might just as well ask basketball players whether they get tired of shooting that same ball into that same hoop again and again, or baseball players whether they get tired of smacking that same ball with that same bat, or golfers whether they get sick of hitting that little white ball into hole after hole, game after game, year after year. The answer would be No, they love the game, and there is just as much suspense in the 537th game as there was in the first.

When a familiar literary work comes up in the course schedule, I enjoy it the same way I enjoy a favorite song I haven’t heard for awhile when it comes on the radio. I don’t enjoy it less because it’s familiar, I enjoy it more.

I am grateful for the repetition in teaching. The only repetitious aspect of teaching I don’t enjoy is grading papers, but that is a topic for a different post.


13 thoughts on “Teaching and the Joy of Repeating Oneself

  1. I absolutely agree 100% with this post. I love what you say about teaching the familiar, about the fun of playing the game, yes, over and over, and your obvious passion for literature. ROCK ON, Dr. Bentz!!

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I don’t have nearly the experience you have, but in my few semesters of teaching, I can definitely see this already. The topic may stay the same, but each semester, each class, each discussion is different from the last!

  3. It is crazy to read this post today because at lunch with my parents (both educators as well) I told them I loved the dynamic wealth of information that you as a teacher bring to the table every class period. You always have some fun facts about the author, or provide dates and cultural connections. Oftentimes it is the in class tools that you bring, which show the class that you know your stuff. Not only is it that you are aware of items that help spark meaningful discussion, but you also have an OBVIOUS PASSION for your line of study. I agree that teaching through repetition makes it more enjoyable every time you re visit a classic work or author. As a student I appreciate the dynamic nature of every lecture, and as a future teacher I am taking notes on how effective your methods have proven to be. I always look forward to your class because learning becomes fun and interactive, something I desire for my future classroom as well.

  4. I just wanted to say I enjoyed this post because I think everyone can relate. And I wanted to say thank you for taking your position so seriously and pouring all of your knowledge and passion into it. It is evident in a classroom which teachers truly prepare for the time with their students and, as a student, I have walked away with so much knowledge from your class already! What I love most is how I am learning about society, history, and culture all through the realm of story and that is due to your clear preparation, organization, interest in what you teach, and engagement in the classroom. I am so glad you’re not tired of teaching, because we need more teachers like you! Thanks :)

  5. As a student in one of your classes I certainly see how much you enjoy interacting with the work and students. As a matter of fact yourself and Ivanov has made me consider going to graduate school a bit later in my life. I am also studying to be a teacher and having people who enjoy and master pedagogy is inspiring. I have found that teaching is its own unique passion. Though the subject matter matters, the love of passing understanding and knowledge on is also essential. When I tutor a fourth grader and we read “Matilda” out loud at what seems the slowest possible rate possible, I don’t enjoy it because of what it appears to be from the outside. Each word they read and make it through displays to me their ability. When I explain how to sound out a word or the definition or pronunciation, I feel excited by the process. When we continue reading and hit the word again and they can easily pass by the word and comprehend it, there is that deep sense of accomplishment. I see that how you teach the context or meaning of a work is the same for you. Mastering explaining the complex simply shows a profound understanding of the text. I certainly hope to be teaching for the same amount of time and loving it still. – Christine Fannin

  6. Being a student in one of your classes (American Literature) has afforded me the chance to see this corroborated and proven! I can really tell that you do enjoy each of the authors and works that we go through and that you learn something new from each of them!

    The danger of repetition leading to apathy is something I have thought about from my perspective as a student, too. In fact, it was in part one way that God used to guide me in a different academic direction than I was heading.

    I changed majors from Biochemistry to English literature a while back, and the impetus for the process of changing was the thought “I would never want to do this for the rest of my life.” Thank you Dr. Bentz for being a great teacher and for being a manifestation of the maxim that “you ought to love what you do.” It has inspired me to strive for the same and resulted in an extremely positive learning experience!

  7. I enjoy the repetition of your classroom experience. Everyday I have come to your class I can honestly say that I have come to learn and to understand more about the authors we read. It is in the repetition that I see you trying to still hone your skills of teaching as a professor and I truly appreciate that because many (maybe even most) professors do not continually try to grow in their own teaching. So thanks Dr. Bentz.

  8. Dr. Bentz,

    This is a very interesting post because I would have thought that teachers get tired of the repetition that their subject provides. However, I like your analogy of comparing teaching to a sports game. No dedicated sports fan would ever get tired of watching their favorite team play the same sport, rather they would get more involved with their team and watch even more sports games. I thoroughly enjoy the discussions we have in class and the wealth of knowledge you bring to the table and I see how repetition brings further understanding.

  9. I sometimes hear Christians say that reading the Bible never gets old for them and that they get something new out of it every time they read it. I think that applies to most great works of literature. The more you read it, the more you enjoy it because the more you read it, the better you understand it. Reading it a fifth, sixth, twentieth time uncovers gems you did not notice when you read it the first time. When you read a book the first time, you are trying to absorb the plot and are trying to keep the characters straight in your head. Once all of that is cemented in your brain and you can move past that stage, you are ready to discover the depths of what the literature has to offer. If you are reading a story you enjoy, it does not get old! Even then, reading a story you do not enjoy multiple times can cause you to appreciate it more because that reading can uncover the depth of the story you did not see the first time you read it. Great post; I can relate!

  10. Dr. B! This is pure GOLD. Thanks for sharing! I find hope in the analogy that you made between teaching and sports. To be honest, I have been worried about getting bored with the material that I will teach each year to my students, but with this insight, I think it will remain exciting! Now I can’t wait to start teaching!

  11. Have you ever noticed differences between your morning and afternoon classes? Are there any patterns there related to repetition? I’m working with a teacher to investigate why afternoon classes are often more difficult than morning classes. Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter! Thanks!

    • I have not found much of a pattern of difference between morning and afternoon classes except that if it’s TOO early in the morning (before 8:30) or so, students tend to be sleepier and need more prompting. My perception has been that each class has its own personality, and the time of day doesn’t matter much. But I know other faculty who have strong preferences for morning or afternoon. Thanks for your comment.

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