On a Career of Two Halves

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Everyone evolves in their job or career. It’s different for everyone; however, not only do each of us change, different reasons initiate each bit of change. Do you have a single moment that changed your career life? If so, do remember the key components as place, date, time, and situation?

I can’t imagine a teacher getting it right on Day 1 of their career. After all, one enters their classroom from the protective confines of observations, experiences, and student teaching – but now that new teacher is all alone with the elements.

To me, my teaching career involved two halves. Content and discipline dominated the first half. After all, two of my strengths were organizing and explaining information.

I recall a story of student who came to my defense when a peer complained that I was so hard. She explained that I was easy because I presented the information well, laid it out in front them, but the content was hard – not me. Oh my, is biology ever heavy in terminology. On the other hand, I later determined that didn’t mean I was a good teacher.

The labs were OK, but not my strength. Like most science teachers, labs were done to support/verify the already-presented content.

I don’t know how it happened, but professional development was very important to me. State, regional, and national conferences were always on my radar. I tried to attend those within a reasonable distance, plus I didn’t mind providing some of my own expenses because (the way I saw it) that’s what professionals do. These conferences were learning experiences – although a side of me (like most teachers) was looking for ideas to fit into my system – after all, I (like most teachers) know what is best for my students.

Toward the end of my career’s first half, the school district hired a math-science curriculum coordinator. Although primarily a math person, I processed her thoughts because she was good at stimulating my thinking. Besides – I had already heard this information before at the conferences; but I didn’t put my knowledge into action.

I wish I would have recorded the date, time, exact setting, and circumstances of the next event. I recall being in a session at a National Science Teachers Association regional conference in Louisville, Kentucky when the light bulb became bright – causing me to proclaimed, “I’ve done a great job of doing it wrong all these years.”

Reflections can be powerful, and I wonder how many people would admit what I did – especially one with 13 or so years of experience. From that moment in Louisville, I committed myself to change. During the rest of the school year, our coordinator encouraged me to try some things – similar to test driving a car – which I did. I also identified areas where I needed training – plus where to get it – and I eagerly attended several intense classes and workshops for 6 months.

As the next school year started, my teaching approach and philosophy changed 180 degrees. I shifted from a lecture-based to activity-based – from teacher centered to student centered – from content driven to application based – from textbook driven to the textbook being an aid – from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side – from dispensing informing to students to having students learn for themselves – from me telling what they needed to know to me guiding their learning as they figure it out – from me tweaking prepared activities to me designing my own lessons that had a clearly defined instructional strategy.

There is no question that the last half of my career was more rewarding than the first half. I loved the challenge of developing and implementing a lesson. My most rewarding moments would be standing and looking at a classroom of every student engaged without me. I wrote my own lessons and was very good at it. My first-half strengths of organizing information and controlling the classroom helped immensely. After all, I had been there and done that.

The last half of my career taught me how to teach. It taught me how people learn. It taught me that change can occur – especially when driven from within. Yes, it made me stubborn with teachers I encountered who held onto the past of teaching how they were taught.

I later had some years in training development for businesses. I cringed when hearing someone say, “Anyone can teach” – well, in business it’s “anyone can train!” I knew I had arrived in my new endeavor when I was disagreeing with the majority of others in the field around me. After all, I had the advantage of knowing that telling isn’t teaching, and telling isn’t training.

On Anybody Can What?

“Anyone can teach.”

I’ve heard that statement many times from people outside of the profession – along with this one: Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach.

Everybody is an educational expert – after all, everyone has sat in a classroom. Yep – everyone who has owned a car is also a qualified mechanic. Everyone who has eaten at a restaurant is qualified to run one. Because I’ve owned GE appliances, I’m qualified to be on the GE Board of Directors. Oh, yes!!!

As a group, teachers are very defensive of themselves and their professional. Then again, unless you’ve done it or are/have been married to a teacher, people are clueless about the time, demands, and effort involved – let alone the knowledge behind instruction and the subject matter. But back to my initial statement – Anyone can teach.

President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) stated that one way to improve teaching quality was to make it easier for non-teaching professional to enter and lead a classroom.. Although the commission’s report was over 30 years ago and teacher certification and licensing has changed since then, the saying and mindset still exists.

A body of knowledge exists with any occupation. Plumbers specialize in plumbing’s body of knowledge. They can get stumped because each plumber doesn’t know everything. The same can be said for all professions and occupations.

It’s obvious that Anyone can teach decreases the importance of the body of knowledge associated with teaching and learning. How else can one justify bringing in an outside professional who lacks teaching experience and teacher education training? Because the auto mechanic fixes cars, shouldn’t he/she be able to fix my air conditioner and furnace problem?

Interestingly, business has a similar and related mantra inside their own organizations – Anyone can train. For example, management promotes a top salesperson into a training position with hopes of the salesperson’s knowledge and experience will help the rest of the sales staff. After all, Anyone can train. Yet, leadership in the business ignores training’s body of knowledge because what are the odds this new trainer has any knowledge about training, training development, and learning?

A body of knowledge associated with effective training is significant – just like teaching. And just as Anyone can teach, Anyone can train is an illusion. To many people, training and teaching is getting up in front of others to disseminate knowledge – also known as the sage on the stage delivering death by PowerPoint. However, like the book title says – Telling Ain’t Training (Harold Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps) – and telling ain’t teaching either.