Posts tagged with “teaching”

A Lesson in Passion

Wednesday, 2 March, 2011

I was  chatting to one of my students this evening after class. He asked me if he could ask me a personal question, and I thought, here we go… boundaries! (ah, the skeptic). It turned out that he wanted my opinion on a dilemma he is having about the next step in his education. His question related to whether he should pursue a degree or a diploma; swap from a more training-based approach to a learning approach.

I almost wish he’d asked me something about me!

This is such a hard question to answer, for so many reasons. The student is not from Canada and is planning to go home at some point, to a different culture, with different expectations and different needs. We chatted for a long time about how when you lack a degree, you often hit a ceiling in your career, and the advantages and disadvantages of his quite varying career options, and then I realised that I wasn’t really telling him what I really wanted to tell him: that it doesn`t matter what you do or where you go if you are not passionate about it.

And so I told him.

I told him how unhappy I had been when I was working full-time at teaching and felt that it wasn`t what I really wanted. I told him how I feel that passion is so important, because if you love what you do, you will be successful no matter what. I also told him that it makes me sad when I talk to students and they tell me they have chosen their studies based on what their parents have told them they must do. And I told him that it also makes me sad when people do things out of fear – a fear of failure, or of a lack of money, or of letting others down. And I also told him that some people work to live, and others live to work, and that he needs to decide what he loves to do, what he is passionate about, and worry about the rest later.

What was interesting was how easy it was to give him advice and talk to him about his path, and speak of fear and passion and risks, when these same things have been plaguing me lately. Funny how it is always easy to dispense advice, but not to hear it oneself. I am following my passion, most definitely, but at the same time, there have been some fearful voices popping up and a lot of stalling and procrastinating. And I have been listening to the fearful chirpings a little too much. I think it is so important to take stock, and to make changes if something is not serving you well, but at the same time, you can`t let fear take hold and cause paralysis, blocking you from achieving what you want to achieve.

Tonight was a great lesson for me, but funnily enough, it was not in the classroom, but rather afterwards where I was able to teach something valuable not only to my student, but to myself as well.


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.


*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.

Indulging Both My Passions

Thursday, 9 July, 2009

book I count myself very lucky. Not many people can identify what it is that they love to do, nor can they create the opportunity to do it (for whatever reason). I feel so fortunate, then, that not only do I know what I love to do, but I get to do not just ONE thing I love, but TWO!

After a year’s hiatus, I have returned to teach at BCIT – this time in Part Time Studies and Continuing Education. Although I don’t entirely enjoy the admin and the preparation, nor the marking (so what does she like, I hear you ask?), I love the feeling of engaging with students, drawing them out of their shells and being able to help them achieve their goals. This is the same satisfaction I get with writing and editing work for clients.

For me, both writing and teaching revolve around idea development. I love being able to coach someone through the process of taking their ideas and turning them into concrete, tangible results – whether it be an essay or a company website. The satisfaction on a person’s face when they see those results is such a reward. I remember one student that I had who was so upset when she got 60% on a paper, but she listened to my comments and took them to heart and worked so hard that her end result was 80% – a fantastic achievement considering English is her 2nd language.

What really touched me was how proud she was of herself, especially when she came to show me a letter she had written, using all the Business Writing principles we had covered in class, to her neighbour to explain to him that he was damaging her car by bashing it with his car door. She said that he came over and apologised profusely and they sorted the matter out. Her face shone as she told me that she knew it was because of the letter she had written and she thanked me for my help. I told her that she was the one who did it, by working hard and by not giving up even though her initial grade had upset her so much.

For me, it is not a grade, or a professional title that defines someone’s worth. It is the hard work, effort and passion they put into it, as well as the refusal to give up in the face of adversity that does.

That’s definitely what I tell myself when I face a pile of marking 🙂


Finding the Recession’s Silver Lining

Thursday, 30 April, 2009

My path to starting Meerkat Communications began a while ago, with the realisation that I wasn’t happy in my position at the time as a Communication Instructor. I was hankering after my first love, writing, and felt that this wasn’t fair to my 2nd love, teaching. I mean I didn’t want to be a two-timer! I did a lot of thinking and did the decent thing – I let my 2nd love down gently and resigned (from my steady income and the good on paper job, you know, the one you can take home to your parents).

I did a lot of thinking, minor panicking,  and research, and then WHAM – The Recession hit. Circumstances meant I couldn’t find a job, which got me thinking. Why not create my own? And it seems I’m not the only one – recent stats say that jobs have increased in BC over the last few months because of a leap in the number of new companies formed (unfortunately I can’t find the article dealing with this). Somehow knowing that I am not alone makes me feel a lot better…

 In 2005, BC Government stats showed that 98% of businesses in the Province are small business, and these SBs account for over a quarter of the provincial GDP. So what could have been a total crisis actually lead to me figuring out the right path for me – something which would not have happened if I had got a job right after resigning. Strange how the universe works, isn’t it?

In the wake of the recession, many people are being forced to reassess their lives – unfortunately without the luxury of choosing to leave their jobs. There is, however, hope. Sometime these things can be a blessing in disguise because they force us to rethink the path we are on and force us to make a much needed change – for the better. Of course it is terrifying, unsettling, sometimes downright crap, but I firmly believe there is always a way to make things work. This can be a lonely path, but it is also infintely rewarding.

I want to share a valuable resource that I discovered on my journey.  The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry offers an insightful and practical approach to career changes. She has some fabulous quotes – so many favourites but here are two:

“Sensitivity to something combines the potential for a sublime experience with the agony of confrontation with the ordinary” (Eikleberry, p.32)

and a quote from Barbara Sher:

“Above all, don’t improve yourself. Improve the world, so that your characteristics stop being problems.”

I enjoyed the fact that this is a book that provides practical solutions and self-assessment tools, and presents creative fields as a viable option. She writes frankly and encouragingly, and it inspired me to write a book review for Suite101 – feel free to read my review and make comments – and ultimately to becoming my own boss. Obviously the book caters to a particular personality type, but many of her insights are broadly applicable. There are also plenty of other resources out there – websites, books, groups, and plenty of people who have been in the same position and can say, without having to lie to make you feel better – IT WILL ALL BE OKAY.