Teaching Is a Not Paint-by-Numbers Thing

I remember telling a relative that I’d gotten a new position at my school setting the school’s network, supporting the staff as they adjusted to all the new technology and teaching my video-journalism students and because this didn’t sound like a traditional teaching position she said blankly, “Oh, so, you’re not a teacher anymore.” And that wasn’t said as a question, but as a statement. Every profession has its own special challenges, but it seems like teaching or being a teacher is just something unfathomable to the general public. Also, because everyone is exposed to the public school system on some level we all feel like we know what goes on and what it takes (generally what little it takes) to be a teacher, beginning with the disparaging saying, “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.”

As a professional educator I’ve done everything from teaching all subjects to 30-some sixth graders at the beginning of my career to teaching excel to second graders, PowerPoint to third graders and HyperStudio to fourth & fifth graders over the course of one week in an elementary school computer lab midway through my career. My final years teaching in the public system I taught algebra, journalism, yearbook, word processing and intermediate media/technology to over 180 sixth, seventh and eighth graders. More than just knowing my curriculum, I had to know how to deal with sleepy seventh graders on Monday mornings, hungry non-English speaking sixth graders before lunch and scared first graders whose feet didn’t touch the ground when they sat in my lab. I quickly learned how to create a seating chart so that the girls who would make their neighbors pay attention were evenly distributed throughout the classroom or how to vamp when the connection to the Internet went down or to look the other way when students quietly working on their projects weren’t very good at hiding their white earphones under their hair. Oh, and if you happened to be good at this than it probably was because it’s something that anyone could do without much effort. Take any warm body and plug them in front a classroom full of kids and it should be fine. Or take the P.E. teacher and stick them in the Civics class for the year and watch those students develop a huge appreciation for our governmental system. Yeah, we know that’s not true but there persists this attitude that any teacher should be able to teach any course with only minimal warning. This goes to heart that what we do is much more than deliver curriculum.

It should be obvious that there’s a huge difference between knowing a song you’ve heard a few times on the radio, to knowing the chords to a song so that you can play along when you hear it, to being able to play the song in front of other people, to performing the song like you lived the experiences shared in the tune, to doing it so well that non-family members would pay money to hear you perform the song. It’s the same with education. The first group is the general public who have largely buried their memories of being in the classroom and mixed them up with some kind of sitcom version. The next groups are the student-teachers and novice teachers. The final groups are the educators we fondly remember and some of us strive to be.

After all of this, I find it interesting that I still get annoyed when I’m unexpectedly given additional courses or responsibilities. I’d like to think that this happens because my superiors are confident that I can do the job, but my first thought is usually closer to WTF. And even though the number of students I deal with theses days is no where near the 180-plus that I used to work with and these students are much more interested in being there versus the disgruntled souls who used to be slumped in my computer lab, I guess I still have the self-imposed pressure that I need to give my students the same level of expertise whether it’s a course I’ve been working on for five-years or five-days. Obviously there’s a hell of a lot more pressure with the course I’ve only “known” for five-days. When I was recently relaying my frustrations to my mom, I could hear the words forming in my head before I even said them, “This isn’t fair… But, who said life is fair.” Yeah, it’s no ones fault. I know well enough, if I don’t like something, change it. Damn. Yeah, this teaching isn’t a paint-by-number thing.


Teachers meme poster, http://pinterest.com/pin/42010208993976763/

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