Posts tagged with “education”

The Life and Times (and possible madness) of a Teacher*

Tuesday, 27 July, 2010

Teaching has to be one of the strangest professions out there. I mean, I know it probably doesn’t compete with a hair boiler or neck skewer, but it certainly is up there. It’s filled with extraordinary highs and lows, and a lot of misunderstandings about what the job entails.

The Holidays

One of the first assumptions people seem to make is that we get these gloriously long holidays. While one’s schedule does match the school holidays, this doesn’t mean the work is over. There is a lot of admin involved and a lot of marking. There are marks meetings, prep for the next term and any professional development work a teacher might do during the break. That being said, yes, the holidays are long. But, if like me in my initial teaching at BCIT, you are on a contract, that means three months unpaid, until the new term. And the terms are often so exhausting that you need the long holidays to recover!

The Hours

“So… you only teach 12 hours a week? So, uh, what do you do during the day?”… <if you really want to know what I do during the day… see Meerkat Communications> Yes, physically we are in the classroom for maybe 12-17 hours a week depending on your load, but that doesn’t mean you only work 12-17 hours a week. First of all, those 12 hours I teach are 4 hours at a stretch of non-stop energy and being on the ball, which isn’t easy from 6-10pm at night. And scheduling means that during day school, there are often solid blocks of constant classes, which means no lunch break or coffee break. And you are constantly having to be on your game. There is no room for being slack or not concentrating, as, not to sound too dramatic, someone’s future is tied to what you are teaching.

When you add preparation and marking, especially when you are teaching a class that doesn’t involve multiple choice tests, then you are looking at a 50-80 hour week (which is not paid). Especially when you have close to 200 students, and no Teaching Assistant. Luckily, I don’t teach that many students any more, but I do usually have about 50 students at a time x 5 assignments each, with about 15 minutes for marking each paper (more for exams), adding insightful, useful comments for the students to be able to improve on their work… can you see how it adds up fast? And I’m just teaching part time!

If you want to be a decent instructor, you also don’t want to just churn out the same crap each term, so you need to spend time updating your work, creating new assignments and exams, designing new activities, and believe me, four hours is a long time to fill.

The other thing I find interesting is that people don’t realize how much time you also have to spend before, during, and after class on paperwork, emails, printing etc. I often have about 5-10 student emails a day with drafts of work to be checked (at about 15 minutes a piece) and other teaching-related queries to respond to. Then, there are the 20-30 minutes (if the equipment all behaves) of copying and printing to do before each class. Then, add in the walking time to fetch a projector and/or a laptop (and returning equipment after class), get set up and be ready before the class starts. I think people are surprised to find out that we can’t just waltz into the classroom and start teaching, although if it looks that effortless, then we’re obviously doing something right.

The Rewards

So why on earth, given all of the above, do we subject ourselves to this? I have encountered the element of the martyr in a lot of educators, so I think there is some of that ‘woe is me, I am a slave to my work but I daren’t slack off because I want you to feel sorry for me for working so hard and they couldn’t possibly survive without me for a day’ syndrome. However, the reality is that you often realize that if you are faced with missing a class through illness, it will be so much easier to just limp through the class, semi-compos mentis, than it will be to try and catch up the work (especially when you are only teaching a 12-week course). It is also really hard to have a cut-off time for work when you aren’t on a strict 9-5 schedule.

So why bother?

Well, when a student comes up to you and asks you if you are teaching the next level of the course because they really enjoyed your class, or that you were their favourite instructor, or you bump into them down the line and they tell you they miss you, or they refer their friends to your class, then all the hours of effort and of prep and marking and photocopying are suddenly worth it. Also, when a student suddenly “gets” it, and they leap from a C to an A, or a fail to a pass, it really an amazing feeling. And being able to share insights, spark debate, and help someone improve, is such a great reward.

I often think that teachers are not paid what they are worth, because it is so hard to quantify a lot of what we do, but really, being able to make a difference in someone’s life, despite the slog, is more than enough reward in itself.

Geraldine

*DISCLAIMER: These are my personal reflections and are in no way a comment on my employer. My perspective is also that of a tertiary-level educator; I have no experience teaching in K-12.

Are You Following Your Passion?

Monday, 21 June, 2010

I was invited to talk at the BCIT Tech Writing Alumni lunch and workshop on Saturday about using social media as a self marketing tool, as well as taking the online conversation offline. One of the other speakers, Kemp Edmonds, talked about he got into the world of social media and education, and one of the things he mentioned as his career starting point was passion.

To me, this is such a key element to success, in whatever your field of interest. You have to identify your passion, and you have to have the guts, and perhaps a bit of selfishness (in the best sense of the word) to follow that passion. It’s what motivated me to leave full time teaching and begin the adventure of Meerkat Communications.

When I was heading home after the lunch, I thought about how much I love speaking, and sharing information and knowledge with others. It was great to talk to a room full of fellow writers and also to reflect on my own journey. It also reminded me of how good it feels when you are doing what you are truly passionate about. It is energizing and also reassuring; reminding you that you are on the right path.

It got me thinking, too, about the three words I chose a long time ago to sum up what it is I do, and that are the pillars of what Meerkat Communications does as a business.

Create.

There is something about words. About how they can roll off your tongue, how they can inspire or hurt, compliment or destroy, humour or surprise. I have always loved words, and have to confess that I even love swear words. There are also certain words that I just hate. They just hurt the ears and seem wrong. I love how certain words just suit their meaning, and how others seem to say the opposite of their meanings. I love word play and jokes, poetry and prose. I really will read anything, from trashy holiday novels to serious academic journals.

I love being able to use words to create and illustrate ideas. I love helping clients express what it is that they do, and promote their company or ideas through their websites and marketing materials. It’s all about finding the right words..

I love being able to also use words to share my own information and ideas, whether it be through articles, blog posts, emails, and yes, even real letters! I am lucky enough to have some correspondents and we actually write real letters. It is such a great surprise to find a real, hand-written letter in amongst the bills and it makes such a difference from the brevity and speed of emails.

Educate.

I love that I get to pursue both my passions: writing and teaching. I love been able to help my students and give them “real world” skills, and show them how using proper business writing skills can help them reach their goals. I also love helping them learn to feel more comfortable presenting in front of others. I also use my love of teaching to help people advance their skills, in the workshop context. It’s great to see people’s faces when they “get it”. It’s incredibly rewarding and I love being able to pass on ideas, tips, resources, and anything else I can think of to help other people find and promote their passion.

Motivate.

Through speaking engagements, workshops, teaching, my volunteer work for Wired Woman, and also through writing, I love being able to help people make connections – whether with other people, or connections in terms of ideas.  If it helps or inspires them to find their passion, or take even one step towards reaching that passion, then I feel like I have really made a difference, and helped motivate someone.

It is so easy to let the humdrum of daily life trick us into thinking that we have to do something. It is very easy to follow the security (I mean, who doesn’t want to live free of the stress of uncertainty?), but if you deny rather than embrace your passions, the stress can actually be bigger and have more of an affect on your emotions and mental well being. It is important, too, to remember (as a wise person once told me) that just because you have an aptitude for something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. You may have many passions or abilities that you can pursue.

Personally, I have been really lucky to have had great support in terms of family and friends, and wonderful mentors too, who have never let me feel like I have made a mistake and who remind me that I am doing what I love and am good at. It does, however, also take a lot of self belief and a definite leap of faith to stay on the path of your passions. I have learned to trust my instincts, and also to let people know not only what it is that I do, but also what I need help with.

If you follow your passions, your rewards are that much sweeter, but don’t feel afraid to ask for help, seek a mentor, network and put yourself out there.

You will get there.

Geraldine

PS – If you are looking for inspiration, you can read my review of The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry. I highly recommend the book.

What the Heck Do We Teach Them?

Thursday, 3 June, 2010

If the jobs that most current students will do when they graduate don’t yet exist, and we’re supposed to be preparing them for the workforce, then what the heck do we teach them?

As you may know, I teach Business Communication part time at BCIT and earlier this week we had a Professional Development workshop for the department. We had some interesting speakers (including department members) and a lot of the discussion focused on teaching millennials. One morning session was lead by Jim Muldowney, a former instructor at North Island University, and he talked about the challenges of teaching the NetGeneration (to use a Don Tapscott term).

It was an interesting discussion and one point that I brought up (because of my experiences as a South African and a teacher in the Third World) was the fact that the majority of the research out there focuses on a lot of assumptions around access to technology, and centres largely on the First World. I would be really interested to see some research done on the same age group in places where technology isn’t as prevalent. Do the same types of values hold? Are the differences between generations less apparent? Do they have different abilities and principles?

An area that Jim addressed was around the assumptions that many researchers are making about so-called shared principles and abilities of the NetGen. One of the major inferences is that when confronted with all the information that is at their fingertips on a daily basis, the NetGen has the ability to think critically and analyse the billions of megabytes of data zooming at them. Not so true if some of the research papers I have seen over the years as a teacher can be taken as empirical evidence…

Having studied an MA, I am well familiar with the scornful “so what are you going to do with that?” questions. One thing that I can truly say that I learned in my years of study in Humanities was the ability to think critically, evaluate texts (of any kind – image or written), and select the best material for my purposes. This has given me frustration at times (I can often not watch movies or read books without overanalysing), but also great joy at the layers of meaning and information I have uncovered for myself.

These skills have also in turn, I feel, lead to a stronger ability to do the same with people, and have well prepared me for the path of an entrepreneur. I would not trade these skills for all the “practical, useful” degrees in the world. As the realms of information and technology, and education change, I agree with Jim; I think we are assuming a level of sophistication that just isn’t there yet. I know it certainly took me time, effort, passion, and engagement to reach a certain level of ability, and I had the guidance of instructors along the way.

To me, this lack of sophistication can be a good thing though, because as educators, we are working with a clean slate. However, the difficulty is always the fact that we have limited time and resources to try and get through a curriculum and also promote and instill these skills. In a culture that I have observed to be very entitlement-based, this is certainly a challenge. Add to the fact that I teach at a training institute and the challenge swells.

One thing that I took away from the workshops, though, was the need for us as educators to be adaptable. I think this is a vital skill in business too. Something else that Jim discussed struck me immensely; the students are a resource in themselves, and we should be talking to them about what they want. If collaboration is a sign of the new world of communication, then this needs to become a large part of what we do, for our own success, and theirs.

Geraldine