COMMON KNOWLEDGE

Posted in Rants on February 23rd, 2014 by Ed

Back when I had a life and did things that made me happy I spent about two years doing stand-up. The first lesson everyone learns when doing comedy is that it's harder than it looks. That is, people have an illogical tendency to think that performing stand-up entails walking onstage and just…talking. For a few minutes. You know, you just get up there and talk, right? Anyone can do that!

Of course this perception is fueled by the fact that people who are really, really good at stand-up are so natural that it might seem like they're just talking off the cuff. In reality they have told those jokes word-for-word a thousand times practicing the inflection, the pauses, and things you'd never even think about until you try it. My point is that not everyone can do stand-up (Hell, even a lot of people who do it all the time can't do it) but people tend to think they can. At least ignorant people do; thoughtful people don't look at someone else and assume that they know how to do their job.

The next time you order a drink at a bar, take a few sips and then start pontificating loudly about how you could make a better one. Talk about how you know all about bartending because you've been to a lot of bars. Hell, sometimes you make drinks at home and you're great at it. Take note of the way the bartender is looking at you. You feel like kind of an asshole, right? Well, if you're capable of feeling shame you'll notice it.

I've found myself saying this a lot lately, but the worst part of teaching for a living is that everyone thinks they know how to do your job. Most of them think they know how to do it better than you do. And when I saw this piece from the Post I had one of those "Well thank god I'm not imagining it" moments. The tone is too smug overall, but the author makes an excellent point – everyone thinks they know how to teach because everyone has spent a lot of time in school. We've all seen countless teachers teaching (some of them not particularly well, we feel) and for those of us who aren't particularly incisive I suppose it's not hard to conclude, "Well how hard can it be?" After all, you just stand up there and talk, right?

I can't explain – and I've stopped trying to explain – what makes teaching more difficult than particularly glib non-teachers think it is, and I've settled into an unsatisfying "Try it, then you'll understand." In fairness, this is true of almost any job that requires skill. I'd probably be terrible at your job if I tried it. That's why you wouldn't hire me to design a building or represent you in court. That's also why I don't tell you how to defend someone in court or design a building. That would be a dick move, right? And you would probably think, "Wow, this guy is so full of shit," right?

Yes, I understand that most of the increasingly shrill rhetoric over the past decade has nothing to do with teachers or teaching and everything to do with a coordinated assault on public employees by wealthy sociopaths. They're acting on self-interest and I get it. The collateral damage, though, is the millions of reactionaries being spoon-fed angry rhetoric about what Those Union Thugs are doing and how Real Americans know better. I'd love nothing more than to invite the average comment troll into my classroom and tell him, "All yours. 75 minutes. I'll be over there laughing."