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Teaching, for Non-Teachers

Published 2010-05-24

My wife is a teacher and I help her a lot with creating and planning computery classroom things. I used to work at a school, where I helped teacher create and plan computer classroom things. At that school I also taught a web design class. And a few months ago I spent an entire day teaching kids about Haiti, using computery classroom things.

Teaching is really really hard. People say this and everyone kind of nods and murmurs, maybe someone throws a jab about unions, or administration, or parents, or “the education system,” but everyone just kind of takes it for granted. But I know, from long, bitter, first-hand experience, how to explain teaching to non-teachers.

Teaching is like giving approximately five presentations every single day.

Think about the last presentation you had to give at your job, to your boss maybe, or the board, or a client. Do you remember how on you had to be? How everyone stared at you? How you couldn’t show disinterest or flagging energy, or you’d lose the room. Teachers do that approximately five times a day.

You probably had a few days to plan that presentation, to pick the art, to practice it in front of a mirror. Maybe you had coworkers or a staff of underlings who could scrape Flickr for funny photos, or offer feedback, or write the second half of the deck.

Teachers give approximately five presentations every single day, and they have a couple of hours — usually at night, at home — to prepare all of them, by themselves.

Think about the most hostile presentation audience you ever had. Maybe it was a cold sales pitch. Or at a conference following someone really awesome. Maybe one time you had to tell someone to silence their cel phone or something.

Teachers give approximately five presentations every day, with almost no prep, to an actively hostile audience that almost always wishes they were somewhere else. And it will be the same audience tomorrow.

If you ever wonder why teachers recycle their lesson plans from year to year; why they rely so heavily on preprogrammed curricula; why they favor really strict classroom management; why their graphic design choices seem so uninspired, remember:

Teachers give approximately five presentations a day with almost no prep to the same hostile audience every weekday for nine months. Even the bad teachers have to do this.

So yeah, slag on the unions, slag on administration, slag on parents, slag on the system. Maybe those things are worth picking a fight with teachers. And sure, teachers don’t have pressures that other professionals have — I like to remind Jenny that I basically write a couple of term papers every week, in terms of the creative energy required at my job. But when everyone nods and murmurs about how hard teaching is, imagine yourself giving all those presentations every day, under those suboptimal conditions.