How do you make the most of your life as a teacher? How do you capture the fascination, enlightenment, and sheer joy that studies can offer both teachers and students? How do you connect meaningfully with your students? All this and more I seek to communicate in my forthcoming (April lst) new book, TEACHING LIFE: LETTERS FROM A LIFE IN LITERATURE (University of Iowa Press, hardcover, trade edition) - and as I summarize below:

In 1978 one of my students died tragically in an automobile accident on her way to my office to talk over her career plans. It was the suddenness of her death, I think, along with the utter loss of so much potential, which left me wondering whether anything I had said in class had made a difference in her too-short life or, for that matter, in the lives of any of my students.

Her death was not only a great misfortune but also a defining moment for me. I believe for the first time in my life as a teacher, and I had been at it for only five years, I realized in the weeks that followed that I wasn't in the classroom for myself. I was and remain there for the students, all of whom are giving me three hours a week of their most precious possession -- their time. What I say and do should make a difference in their lives. The worst thief is a bad teacher.

So why do I teach? It's my favorite question and one that I encourage you to ask of yourselves as well.
I teach because I believe I have an innate need to teach.
I teach because I love to learn.
I teach because I want to connect with people's minds and hearts at the deepest levels possible.
I teach because I'm passionate about my subjects.
I teach because I want to make full use of my allotted time.
I teach because since childhood I have felt most comfortable on a campus, in a classroom, with books and pens and paper.
I teach because it gives me a forum and the freedom to confront many of the lies and distortions that threaten to sweep modern civilization under the rug of history.
I teach because I want to think as fast as possible, in as complex a way as possible, and put my thinking into forms that will perhaps benefit my students and anyone else who will listen.
I teach because I need to take risks.
I teach because I know that to stop teaching would be a form of self-destruction.

My father, during his youth in the early 1930s, had a recurring dream. He found himself standing at the edge of a deep ravine. A narrow walkway led to the other side. Although he wanted to cross it, he was afraid to try because far below a body lay, and he felt responsible for it being there, but he didn't know why.

We talked about this dream many times. He told me how, as a high school student, he eventually came to understand that in his dream the body was his own -- and that his fear of it kept him from walking across.

At the deepest and subtlest level of his being, that body stood for some of humanity's basic fears: the fear of failure, the fear of being insignificant, and the feeling of worthlessness that comes with doubt about himself. Not until he heard and chose to believe the words of a teacher, who said, "Accept any challenge," did my father find the courage to walk across to the other side.

Along with everything else, I believe that the role of a teacher in a student's life is to help him or her to walk across -- to the other wide where lies the potential to do great things and think great thoughts. The alternative -- a life not lived -- is unimaginable.

Though that student from 1978 didn't live to realize her potential as a teacher, my joy of knowing her and thousands of students like her continues to inspire me every day.

I am in my 35th year of teaching - but it seems like five. I have written about these experiences in TEACHING LIFE: LETTERS FROM A LIFE IN LITERATURE. The book may be pre-ordered on Amazon or on the numerous other book sites. I look forward to the dialogue on teaching that I hope my book will stimulate. I hope you enjoy the reading it - and please let me know your reactions.

My joy that comes from this profession has sustained me through all kinds of challenges. As I say in the conclusion, it is a safe haven to which I can retreat and from which I emerge emboldened and clarified and confident - and very thankful. What a noble and important profession teaching is, and how fortunate all of us are to be able to contribute.

Respectfully yours,

Dale Salwak, Ph.D.
Department of English
Citrus College
Glendora, CA 9l74l (dsalwak@citruscollege.edu)

About the Author
Dale Salwak is a professor of English at southern California's Citrus College and a recipient of Purdue University's Distinguished Alumni Award as well as a National Defense Education Act fellowship from the University of Southern California where he earned his Ph.D. He is the author of numerous books, including Kingsley Amis: Modern Novelist and Carl Sandburg: A Reference Guide, and the editor of The Wonders of Solitude, Anne Tyler as Novelist (Iowa, 1994), Philip Larkin: The Man and His Work (Iowa, 1989), and The Life and Work of Barbara Pym (Iowa, 1987).

Review
"I loved all of the incidents from Salwak's own experience as a teacher. They are richly described. There is a lively sense throughout of a working classroom instructor, a passionate man, and a well-educated one, a committed reader who communicates his love of literature to his students. I was applauding as I read these (numerous) passages." --Jay Parini, author, The Art of Teaching

"Dale Salwak has written a profoundly thoughtful and moving meditation on the joys and sorrows of the teaching profession. This book should interest all who teach and all who have had the privilege of learning from a caring teacher." --John Halperin, University of San Diego

"Teaching Life is a fascinating blend of practical advice on teaching, moral inquiry, and personal experience. Its focus moves from the obligation to return exams promptly, to Christianity and Judaism, to Kingsley Amis, to experiencing a parent's death. The unusual range of subjects makes Salwak's book by turns instructive, inspiring, and poignant."--Kenneth Silverman, professor emeritus of English, New York University

“In this remarkable book, Dale Salwak masterfully distills the lessons of thirty-five years of college teaching, weaving them together with illustrative episodes from literature and life. It should be required reading for anyone embarking on a teaching career – and many veterans would surely benefit as well.” –John McLaughlin, senior fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency

Author's Bio: 

Dale Salwak is a professor of English at southern California's Citrus College and a recipient of Purdue University's Distinguished Alumni Award as well as a National Defense Education Act fellowship from the University of Southern California where he earned his Ph.D. He is the author of numerous books, including Kingsley Amis: Modern Novelist and Carl Sandburg: A Reference Guide, and the editor of The Wonders of Solitude, Anne Tyler as Novelist (Iowa, 1994), Philip Larkin: The Man and His Work (Iowa, 1989), and The Life and Work of Barbara Pym (Iowa, 1987).