I became a teacher by accident. I was graduating from college with the intent to be a famous movie director. or editor. or something important. Something more significant than a college professor. When I got out of college, I sent my resume(mediocre as it was) to a bunch of high profile production companies I was under qualified for, and also saw a job listed for a learning assistant at my local community college. I got hired mostly on my charm and enthusiasm in the interview and spent the next five years figuring out how to do the job right. I watched a lot of teachers get it right, and get it wrong. I got offered my first adjunct teaching position by accident as well. A regular adjunct had to back out of a class they were offered and I happened to be in my boss’ office when he did. I was to cover the first week, until they found a suitable replacement. They never did. I fell in love with teaching immediately. From then on, I spent nights and weekends earning my Master’s degree in Education Technology. Two years after that, I got hired as a full time faculty member. I’ve been involved in higher education for 16 years, this week. I am still trying to figure it out.
It seems like everyone wants to tell teachers how to be teachers. I often hear it regarded as a back-up plan. “Well if my band doesn’t make it, I could always teach music”. "If I get burned out at the firm, I could always teach PR". A few years ago I was promoted to department chair (mostly because I was next in line for a job nobody wants). I get calls from laid off or tired professionals once a week who tell me “I think having worked in TV for 20 years as a camera assistant I could really teach your kids the real world of television”. Some even come with their own course syllabus (a lazy outline in a word doc of things they want to talk about) written as a course proposal they expected us to just let them teach.
Consider teaching this way. Take something you know a lot about. Let’s say the internet. You’re on the internet all the time, you do all your social activity on the internet, you even know how to use Google at the advanced search. Great. You can teach a course on the internet. Until a student asks you about which companies are the Tier 1 networks. Oh well you could look that up. Then they mentioned they read something in the book about CERN. Oh and you were just about to show a PowerPoint on Al Gore being boastful. Then they want you to discuss the legal guidelines on peer to peer file sharing. Pick any subject you know a lot about and there are students who will ask questions you’ve never considered before.
Forgive me a brief tangential but somewhat related criticism. When I was an adjunct, I called myself an adjunct. When I got hired to teach full time, I called myself an instructor. When I got tenure, I called myself an assistant professor. Next year if I get promoted I will call myself an associate professor. Most of my students just refer to me as Chad. I would never call myself Dr. Anderson, because I’ve yet to earn my doctorate. I wouldn’t call myself Colonel Anderson if I was a private in the army. But “professor” is one I’ve seen people throw around rather easily. I see this almost as much as I see the term “educator”, almost as an afterthought. “I’m a poet/artist/writer/educator.” I would agree that everyone has the potential to develop the skills to be a teacher. But I think many look at it as an unskilled profession. As if we just talk about what we know and that makes us qualified. I think it says something about how we value professional educators.
Let me excuse my rant by admitting that I love my job. I have a charmed life. The best part about being a full-time college professor is autonomy. I have freedom to organize my class how I like. I can change gears on a moment’s notice. Beyond some fundamental structure, I can be my own person. Teaching college in a career studies field is even better. I have a group of students who are engaged, interested, passionate and as eager as I am about audio/visual technology and media criticism. Also, I do work regularly “in the field”. Having summers and weekends off (and a mortgage and student loan payments) allows me the opportunity to pick up freelance work elsewhere. I do this a lot “professionally” because it does actually help make me a better teacher. But consider two things. Having worked in the field, I realize I could be making a lot more money if I were there instead of here. I have voluntarily compromised wealth in exchange for comfort, job security and autonomy. It is how I am able to see my kids before bed. Second, I teach 5 classes of 3 hours and conduct 5 office hours. But I work much more than 20 hours a week. I will be in for a few hours on almost every weekend of my life. I go to about 7 meetings a week. I’m grading and revising and structuring outside of my face to face class time constantly. There’s been some talk about laziness in the teaching profession. I imagine there are some teachers who get away with working 15 and 5 and never do any work outside the office. I haven’t met any yet.
I have some great students. They are knowledgeable, socially aware, respectful, and invested in their education, as they trust that I am teaching them skills towards getting a career. Some are obvious. When I show my students an editing technique, they imagine they could add that to a resume. But I’m sure my students don’t notice when I require they edit their videos down to 4 minutes exactly, I’m teaching them a greater skill. Recently, I’ve seen several of my friends posting a camera phone clip of a high school student “going off” on his teacher about how she should do her job. I’ve encountered this type of student as well, more recently in the age of social media. I have some strong beliefs about the negative effects of social media on today’s student. I think it’s exciting that we all get a voice, and an opinion, and immediate access to information through social media but I worry about the effects it has on students. Recently, I’ve noticed more and more students asking questions. Not about the content, but about the process. Everyone, especially the students, is asking teachers to defend how we do our job. My assertion is, because social media allows us to feel like our opinions make us authorities on everything, we indulge ourselves to question everything without respect to the position others have earned.
Questions and Answer Time:
"Why do we have to take tests in a production class?" - Because I’m training you to be a member of a professional field, in which we use terminology specific to our field and I need to know that you can communicate using that terminology without looking foolish and inexperienced by your lack of recall.
"Why do I have to capture my own footage when it takes like 3 hours?" - Weird, it would only take me an hour to do that. Are you suggesting that because I’m practiced at something, my skills are much faster than yours and by requiring you to practice at something individually I’m improving your technical ability?
"Why do we have to write all these notes when you can just give them to us" - Because I have a fundamental understanding of the way in which our mind processes information we’ve had to transcribe from dictation, and I can appreciate all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy**** to understand that I’m actually helping you retain this information.
"Why don’t you teach us, instead of just giving us another packet" - Because I don’t work in customer service. And everything is not about the way you’d like it served. And because completing forms, whether it be federal grants, job applications, tax documents or a million other examples of things you’ll have to get good at filling out is a skill you need to develop to be a functional member of society. And you learn by doing. Packets are part of the process.
****(Make a note to look this up if you are one of those “educators” who had never heard of this)
SideNote #2: Remember “The Karate Kid” (the original). Remember humble and respectful Daniel LaRusso painting the fence and waxing on as well as off and side to side and all that. Picture Mr. Miagi taking an earful of protest from some snotty entitled dropout about not inspiring him to want to learn karate and making him do yard work. Actually that happened in the movie. And then what happened…
Here’s the problems with the student everyone is referring to on the internet now as a hero. He’s a narcissist. Studies show that younger generations have a greater sense of entitlement than ever before. Studies show this because someone learned how to write a study. They learned it in a freshman English class, and I promise you it was as inspirational as teaching research writing gets+. My father would have beat me if I ever disrespected an adult that way++, especially a teacher. And I would have deserved it. We are moving into a society where everyone seems to enable themselves the right to question every person we put in a position of authority. The teacher does not have to explain their process to the student. The teacher has earned the respect of being put in charge of the class. I wouldn’t want to change places with a high school teacher. They have to teach history to a group of students who have absolutely no passion about the subject and are required to be there. And they are being constantly criticized and evaluated and assessed and quantified by everyone else they have to appeal to. All while parents are asking them to put athletics before academics and religious groups are trying to redefine science and lawmakers are systematically removing the only assurance they have of maintaining academic integrity. I don’t envy the impossible job they have. And then they have to deal with shitty students who act like self-important, desperately non-conformist revolutionaries, despite not knowing the difference between the words “credit” and “credibility”.
One final thought. No one (in their praise of the academic evangelist) mentioned his race. What this suggests is that no one factored in his race as part of his outspoken disrespectful behavior. It’s not as if he had to behave in a certain way or people would associate his race with his actions. He could act out publicly and it not be a reflection of his ethnicity, his upbringing or his culture. He was never referred to as “they”. He was never looked at as “one of them”. That must be very convenient that as the other students sit with their hands over their face in class, he’s allowed to speak out without his color being considered as a factor of his person. It’s a shame there’s not a word for that kind of permissiveness.
+ The award clearly goes to my wife for most inspirational research writing professor
++ My father was never physically abusive with me. But yet I never mouthed off to a teacher this way. It’s all conjecture really.