COMMON KNOWLEDGE

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."

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54 Responses to “COMMON KNOWLEDGE”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    Transcript of a non-teacher teaching: "Um…Uh…OK…(Long, painful silence.)" Repeat until the laughter dies down and everybody just starts wanting something, anything to make it stop.

    Or, to put it another way: if everyone can do it, why is it that when I assign class presentations, I get reactions that range from "Where's the tanto?" to "You're worse than Hitler"?

  2. Xynzee Says:

    Don't know what you're on about. You don't teach, you're a university lecturer.

    Year 9/Freshman boys. Bonus points if they're jacked up on sugar/caffeine/Red Bull, and of a more boisterous and/or defiant ethnic persuasion.

    Now for added difficulty, let's add in the lower socio-economic—read, education why bother, cause it won't help us anyway—classes, over crowded and poorly resourced school/classroom.

    That's where it's at Mr Uni-man. ;)

    Good times!

    For the above and other reasons I quickly realised I had no business in a classroom.

  3. Mo Says:

    We all hate being made to feel stupid, and if you actually are stupid (for reasons that probably aren't even your own fault), then what you get out of 12 years of forced attendance at school is one chronic, burning case of hate and resentment.

    How to prevent this? Far better minds than mine are bleached, broken skeletons after running aground on that particular shoal.

  4. eau Says:

    That happens to bartenders all the damn time, just FYI.

    People suck, but drunk people suck more.

  5. Coises Says:

    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.

    It’s everywhere. It’s especially depressing fun to watch for it in oneself.

  6. wetcasements Says:

    I teach English at a college in South Korea. So, it's a big huge myth that Koreans (or Asians writ large) are magically attuned to education and always listen obediently and never interrupt or fuck around. They certainly do. Classroom management is still an issue.

    But I'm not sure I could ever go back to teaching in the US. Teachers and education are respected here in a general sense that is completely alien to the U.S. Education (and in particular, English) is still highly regarded as a means to an end.

    Given the outrageous tuitions and loan scams and crippling debt that comes with a college degree in America now, college is something that should probably be avoided.

  7. Jeremy Says:

    Not surprisingly, many of the comments to that article offer maddeningly pathetic evidence of the mindset in question: e.g., the idea that parent-teacher conference days are just one of the many days off that teachers enjoy.

  8. Pat Says:

    Wet Casements, once and future teacher in Thailand here, and absolutely enormous, humongous, gigantic agreement on points one and two. Fifteen-year-olds the world over are pretty much always the same.

    No agreement on the third point, however. It seems pretty clear that in another generation, American society will be so thoroughly stratified that college education will be the transmission mechanism of the new aristocracy (Wall Street parents will be the only ones who can afford the tutoring and test prep sufficient to get their kids into the (thoroughly "meritocratic") elite colleges they need to attend to get jobs themselves on Wall Street).

    So I'd say instead that college is something dearly to be afforded—if only one can.

    I am continually surprised that the American right can remain even nominally competitive electorally after taking such a huge dump on discrete classes of Americans whenever their retirement benefits need to be seized. Auto workers are greedy thieves, teachers are coddled nincompoops, and the list goes on. But surely it must occur to some politician that those jobs are held by voters, and they'll need more votes than oil executives and tobacco farmers.

    I mean, doesn't it?

  9. Sarah Says:

    I suppose this is one reason to be happy that I'm going into a line of work that requires esoteric knowledge, and probably why there used to be a lot of Latin and other archaic word usage in legal documents–although Florida's movement towards "plain language" usage does seem like it's intended to accommodate Teh Stupid now that I think about it.

    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.

    It’s everywhere. It’s especially depressing fun to watch for it in oneself.

    Dude, there's a certain blogger whom I read who explicitly calls himself a "superintelligence," and will come right out and say, in reference to his detractors, MPAI (Most People Are Idiots) and that he's smarter than they (you) are.

    But I'm not sure I could ever go back to teaching in the US. Teachers and education are respected here in a general sense that is completely alien to the U.S. Education (and in particular, English) is still highly regarded as a means to an end.

    Teachers have never been respected by the Powers that Be in the United States (I mean, this is why teacher salaries are always such an issue; they're among the lowest paid professions requiring a master's degree). But when I was coming up, among the hoi polloi at least, there was a general sense that teachers weren't getting the pay and the respect that they deserve. Now there is an active movement to destroy public education, and they've got a tremendous head start with all the budget cuts that have gone down since the 1980s. Public education as it is now is holding on by a thread.

    Also, the (not entirely joking) insults towards liberal arts degrees and "useless" degrees like English and philosophy. Employers specifically and the public generally sneer at people with those educations, and then bitch and moan because the job candidates and employees that they are getting are using texting shorthand to communicate in correspondence that is supposed to be professional, and they can't spell or put together a coherent sentence, never mind a paragraph or a document.

    Not surprisingly, many of the comments to that article offer maddeningly pathetic evidence of the mindset in question: e.g., the idea that parent-teacher conference days are just one of the many days off that teachers enjoy.

    Well, yeah. That and planning periods, and summers off (which teachers spend on recertifying and attending conferences). It's like somebody who writes for a living (various forms of writing including novelists). That's not "real" work because you're sitting on your butt doing a word-dump onto a computer screen.

  10. Anonymouse Says:

    @Ed, for the money quote: "…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."

  11. Anonymouse Says:

    @Sarah, I read a variety of political blogs, several of which are constantly being overrun by trolls. A common theme (or maybe it's a common troll?) that keeps popping up is that Rill Murkkkuns don't NEED no stinkin' college because they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and education is a "waste of time" (seriously, that's actually what it's called, over and over, a "waste of time". What do you DO with that kind of proudly belligerent and combative mindset?

  12. RosiesDad Says:

    In between my first failed undergrad foray, the second more successful one, the return for a post-bacc program and grad school, I spent over a decade as a college student. In that time, the number of great teachers I had was probably 10, good teachers another 20 and the rest, meh.

    Teaching is HARD. Conveying large amounts of information in a way that is interesting enough to keep your students awake (esp. right after lunch in a darkened lecture hall), makes them want to think about it and learn more about it requires much of what the standup comedian has: mastery of material, timing of delivery, organizational flow. Anyone who thinks it is easy hasn't done it.

    Our school district recently tried to reduce the salary differential for Ph.D's as a means of narrowing a budget gap as opposed to raising taxes a couple of dollars. (There are a half dozen or so teachers in the HS who hold that degree. My son had has 2 or 3 of them. They are all excellent teachers.) The proposal was squashed by outraged parents who moved here so their kids could enjoy the outstanding education the public schools here provide.

  13. Buckyblue Says:

    I've moved from defending teachers and how hard we work and the prep hours and summer and people calling me lazy because I don't work hard (despite the fact that teaching is always at the top of professions with the most demanding work load). To…. Who's the dumbfuck who didn't go into the profession where you don't have to work that hard, get a good salary and benefits and all that time off. Yup, feel free to think about me while you're slaving away at your job, in July, for some bullshit boss who can fire you at any minute, while I'm up at a lake cottage for three weeks. If it's just so good then why the hell didn't you go into it?

  14. Sarah Says:

    What do you DO with that kind of proudly belligerent and combative mindset?

    Leave them to their own devices and seek out those who are willing to ally themselves with you. If possible, point out and document the cognitive dissonance in all its various forms, à la Manboobz (with the operative phrase being "if possible," of course. We've all got lives to lead, and blogging this shit not only requires time and effort, the added yammering might not increase the signal-to-noise ratio).

  15. Xynzee Says:

    @Rosies: your school district appears to have interested parents who value education for their kids. As opposed to the usual Asshats.

    Portland Public Schools have been having the usual "gotta cut costs" mantra going, with cheerleading from the new conservatard editors of the Oregonian. One headline that caught my eye was on how PPS had smaller class sizes than neighbouring districts, so… we need bigger class sizes too or something. Back in the day that was something to be proud of. Now it's ZOMG!!! We hire too many teachers!!!

    @Anonymouse: We start taking warning labels off things, and perhaps dial back controls on seatbelt laws. Then let nature take its course ;)

    I personally believe that university education isn't for everyone. Unfortunately, America has about as much respect for trades as it does for teachers. Say what you will, but a business savvy plumber or beautician can earn easily as much as a lawyer or accountant.

  16. Anonymouse Says:

    @xynzee, I agree that a university education is not for everyone. My BIL is a mechanic who can fix anything he puts his hands on, and has never seen the grounds of a college or university. OTOH, that doesn't make a university degree worthless as the conservatards are so loudly insisting seemingly everywherely I look (I am not saying you think that!)

    My youngest is in college; he started his education under Bush's reich, and I've had a front-row seat to how badly the Republicans have broken public education in this country–and then pointed out it and wailed that it was broken.

  17. Anubis Bard Says:

    It's nice to think that 75 minutes in the classroom would wake up these critics to the challenges of teaching. But you know as well as I do that they'd come out the other side bitching about how stupid the students (and their parents) are.

  18. Jestbill Says:

    "thoughtful people don't look at someone else and assume that they know how to do their job."

    But…but those scientists have completely forgotten the impact of water chemistry on the climate!
    But…but those evolutionists just don't understand the Bible!
    But…but regulations and inspections are wasteful and reduce our freedom to run our business the way we want to run it.

    The answers to those arguments should always contain the word 'bogus.' (Also, a reference to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire is never out of order.)

    "Leave them to their own devices and seek out those who are willing to ally themselves with you."
    Too nice/soft spoken. The right word is 'shun.'

  19. Anubis Bard Says:

    I have tremendous respect for the craft of teaching – which is why I don't do it any more – despite the fact that it is the standard soft landing for a cultural anthropologist. And one of the things I most valued about it is that it remained a "craft" — that is, it is a skilled, demanding task that you can spend a lifetime mastering, but never perfect. And given the limitations on most "jobs" in this our capitalist utopia – this is a marvelous thing.

    It's a crime that so many teachers now work in conditions that make that craft almost impossible to practice. And why? So some grifters can make their fortunes "reforming" education? So the American Empire can save some nickels on the downslope? So that no serf in the economy works with dignity and respect – lest they infect their students with such dangerous notions? So that the precious American ignorance and complacency is never jostled by a careful education?

    Why spend money giving kids ideas they shouldn't have, right?

  20. RosiesDad Says:

    @Xynzee: It's a never ending battle. Our Township has been Republican since colonial times and only recently elected a couple of Democrats to township positions (school board and board of supervisors). It is affluent but there is also a large population of older, retired conservative voters whose kids finished with the school district decades ago and they don't want to pay a cent more than they have to. (Of course, there is no 'splaining to them that they enjoy higher property values because our school district is in the top 5 in PA and that we only maintain that if we pay for it.)

    My son had a Ph.D. for AP Chem last year and has a Ph.D. for AP Physics this year. Both of these individuals could be earning much more in industry but have been HS science teachers for a couple of decades because they are passionate about science education and as a result, enjoy great job satisfaction. (Amazingly, the chem teacher claimed not to know who Walter White was…) My daughter, who graduated a few years ago, had a US History teacher who left a career as a Federal prosecutor to become an educator.

    Having smart, motivated, enthusiastic teachers can make all the difference. (And we should really call them educators, not teachers. It is more accurate and maybe lends a bit more stature to what they do.)

  21. celiadexter Says:

    Unfortunately, I would add that a great deal of disrespect for the teaching profession — elementary and high school, not college — stems from the fact that it was traditionally a female occupation and, until the 1960s or so, one of the few areas where intelligent and educated women were able to earn a living. But it was also treated as glorified pink-collar work and paid accordingly. (A little-discussed unintended consequence of the women's movement was that, as other male-dominated higher-paid professions opened up to women, many of the highest-achieving women students no longer went into teaching, leaving a perception that teachers today are the C students who couldn't get into law, medical or business school — leading to further disrespect.)

  22. el mago Says:

    I've taught language arts in small private classroom settings to high school students, and didn't notice the "anybody can do it" syndrome. (There were numerous other issues, but never mind.)

    Try running a restaurant and being a chef, and everybody will tell you your business because everybody eats, and that makes them automatic authorities. I don't tell my mechanic or dentist how to do their jobs, so please don't tell me how to do mine.

    By the way, the asshole side of people glares when it comes to food, especially the old poverty mentality. I guess because growing up all you had to do was open the fridge and there was something to eat. Ergo, food should be free.

  23. c u n d gulag Says:

    If you need a chill-pill this morning, take a look at this Kacey Musgraves "Follow Your Arrow" video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ8xqyoZXCc&feature=player_embedded

    Not only is she a talented singer-songwriter, she's a stone-cold hottie.

    If THAT song made the Top-10 in Country Music, than we as a species, are further along than I thought.

  24. Bosh Says:

    I think sometimes teaching isn't that hard. After all I can walk into a class and wing it and make a pretty good lesson when I have to.

    But then I think back to my first year or two teaching. Oooof, yeah, that was just embarrassing. I still thick most teachers are pretty bad at their job, but then most everyone is pretty bad at their job and teaching is vastly harder than it looks.

  25. Hazy Davy Says:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/22/you-think-you-know-what-teachers-do-right-wrong/

    Also, I had some complimentary, complementary comments to make over on my G+ "like", but they do not propagate, here…

  26. jeffteaches Says:

    25 years as a high school Language Arts (English) teacher. I'm good, oftimes excellent, at what I do, and I have taught the lowest to the highest in both skills and motivation, which are usually closed linked.

    In Georgia, our R overlords have managed to freeze our pay for 7 years. The legislature and our R governor push constantly for charter school because they are better (for private industry, therefore for R politicians come contribution time.)

    I have stuck it out because I think it's the right thing to do; my vocation is also my avocation. Mind you, teenagers are useless sacks of skin some days, but they are always entertaining.

  27. DaveDell Says:

    75 minutes. That's a tough sled. Clint Eastwood thought he could fill 10 minutes just talking off the cuff at the R's convention. Ran out of material after 3.

  28. Rich Says:

    teaching requires fairly deep knowledge of material (unless your students are real dullards) and an understanding of how to put the material over in such a way that students pick-up what's important. the latter is the work that comes mostly from experience and is frustrating, even if one know principles of learning. It's what a lot of instructors give up trying to do.

  29. Robert Says:

    I've always been courteous and supportive to our son's teachers. Judging from their reactions to that, it's about as rare as you'd think. Looking back on my own career in public service (twenty four years in the VA hospital), I could have made as much money teaching high school – but the hospital didn't require a degree.

  30. Andrew Says:

    @Anonymous: Comment trolling is very time consuming. People with jobs and university degrees don't have that kind of time. So that "field" self-selects for people who are uneducated, and most people make themselves feel better by deluding themselves (and attempted to delude others) that what they don't have isn't worth having.

  31. Andrew Says:

    @c u n d gulag: I'm at work and didn't have time to listen or watch the video, but I looked at the beginning, and she's not that hot. She looks like a slightly prettier version of everyone else. Nothing distinctive about her. Also, if people are taking life advice from country music, we're probably NOT as far along as you thought. :-)

  32. Mo Says:

    Teachers have never been respected by the Powers that Be in the United States

    Sarah – you reminded me of Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American History, which is increasingly starting to seem like a sort of bible on this topic. If my Kindle were a book, it would be as dog-eared as a pound pup.

    His descriptions of the typical male teacher in the 1800s are priceless. And ditto on the origins of the war between the educated and "practical men" in our political life.

    Yikes.

  33. Townsend Harris Says:

    I'll wager Pat's on to something when he wrote "college education will the the transmission mechanism of the new aristocracy".

    I don't know about college education, but admission and graduation are *already* crucial mechanisms for sorting out who belongs and who gets bupkes.

  34. Major Kong Says:

    My stepdaughter was dating a rather arrogant lawyer for a while (fortunately not any more). She brought him over for dinner one night and he asked me this question:

    "So, is it really that hard to land a jet?"

    Apparently he'd recently mastered Microsoft Flight Simulator and now felt qualified to do my job as well.

    "Yes, it really is that hard. And if I screw it up I'm a smoking crater in the middle of some industrial park near the airport."

  35. mothra Says:

    Oh, Major Kong, you should have replied "no, it's not really hard to land a jet at all. As a matter of fact, you should get yourself a plane and go for it. I'm sure you're a natural." Jackass.

  36. What Have the Romans Ever Done for US? Says:

    What I don't get about the attitude toward teaching is that the idea of standing in front of a room full of people talking terrifies the vast majority of Americans. You would think that phobia would be enough to make them think that maybe talking in front of a room full of people for several hours every day isn't that easy. They're so completely unaware that, in their minds, overcoming one of their most prominent fears every friggin day is something they could totally do, and totally do better than the person who does it.

  37. fdchief218 Says:

    I think one of the critically underappreciated parts of "teaching is hard" is that teaching is a craft, as Anubis Bard pointed out above, and we have very few genuine crafts left in technologic society.

    That is, it's not something you can learn by merely observing, or reading a text, or getting a lecture; you have to actually DO it, and you quickly discover that it's like working in wood or stone; you can't carve two different pieces of wood exactly the same way any more than you can teach the same thing to two different groups of people the same way or – to use the example Ed started with – put over the same routine to two different audiences in two different venues.

    I think that part of the problem, unfortunately, stems from the Ed schools. By their very nature they pretty much HAVE to insist that "anyone can teach" while their academic curriculum is pretty ineffective at doing much to really improve the craft skills of their students. The student-teaching process can be effective if you have a great mentor-teacher but my experience in Oregon in the 90s was that the quality of the teachers I got was vastly unpredictable; soem were terrific, some were complete burn-outs and worthless at teaching an apprentice teacher anything.

    And add to that the way we've set up our classrooms.

    The comparison I always liked to use on my red-meat Republican pals in the Army – who loved to comment on how effed-up public schools were at teaching compared to their STRAC Army instructors – was to compare the public school teacher with 30-odd students to my platoon of GIs.

    That teacher is shut in a room with 30 adolescents to whom he/she is anything from a font of knowledge to an irritating distraction to their social lives. Either way, it's 30-1 them against the teacher in a situation where they're supposed to be taught to master a complex subject or subjects.

    By comparison, as a platoon sergeant I had my officer platoon leader, 3 to 4 E-6 (staff sergeant) squad leaders, and a total of 6 to 8 E-5 (sergeant) team leaders to help me teach, lead, and control my student/soldiers. That's a total of 11 to 14 "teachers" for about 20 to 30 students, somewhere between 1:2 to 1:3.

  38. Terence Says:

    I agree that teaching is hard. I work in a university in Georgia (having also worked for ones in New York City and New York State, mostly in student academic support services. However, since coming to Georgia, I have taught one to two classes per year, mostly to first year students.

    I find teaching much more stressful and difficult than meeting with students one on one.

  39. el mago Says:

    Yeah, then there's the story of Columbus and the egg, which every Japanese school kid knows.

    Goes something like Columbus is at a royal dinner in his honor and a guest says, "So you went sailing and discovered some land, anybody can do that. To which, Columbus replies, can you make an egg stand on end? Of course the loudmouth can't, so Columbus takes the egg and hits it on end and stands it up. "See, it's easy. Anyone can do it."

    My first culinary teacher, a Japanese chef, pulled that one on me when I arrogantly declared that anyone can flip a saute pan.

  40. anotherbozo Says:

    Teaching in American schools is such a downer of a situation that I reach for straws. One of them is a program in NYC with an ad campaign that just started on NYC subways. I don't know anything about the program, whether it's effective or promising or a cruel joke, given the state of our city schools, but I like one of the ads:

    YOU REMEMBER THE NAME OF YOUR FAVORITE TEACHER. WHO WILL REMEMBER YOURS?

    It's a good recruiting line. Teachers are scum in this society, and get beat up more and more often in various ways, but everyone (I think) remembers that particularly gifted, personally special one who may have come along at just the right time.

    OTOH, when a password prompt suggested a question, "Who was your first boss?" I couldn't remember the name.

    Here's their website, BTW:

    https://nycteachingfellows.org/program/2014%20Program%20Overview.asp

  41. David Says:

    Anyone can get comfortable with and competent at the craft of teaching after a year or three of practice. But the craft is only half the game. You also have to be a passionate expert inyour subject area to teach truly effectively.

    And yes, I do think college is over rated. Middle school and high shcool too. Most jobs in society could be performed with a combination of less than 10 years or so of public shcool, and some decent on-the-job training. An ambitious middle schooler could be ready for most modern undergrad programs. In a perfect world, you could test into colelge even if you hadn't finished (or started) high school, and employers wouldn't be demanding a college degree for every middle class or better job, unless the position involved advanced hard science.

    And I say that as a public shcool teacher (elementary, middle and high school) turned university lecturer (at the remedial, undergrad degree, and grad level).

  42. bb in GA Says:

    The thing that non-teachers often lack is the entry into the Passion-Knowledge cycle. If you are really passionate about your subject, you acquire more knowledge of it and you attempt different ways to communicate that knowledge.

    I have been a "life" long teacher/tutor of math (especially algebra0 and have taught on the tech college level during my engineering career.

    I never let a student slide (in this generation) w/ "I'm not a math person." because I would point out their mastery of rules-based (video and other) games and various technologies.

    If you can conquer those, you can do it!

    //bb

  43. David Says:

    Also, @another bozo. NYTeaching Fellows is a part of The New Teacher Project. Which is pretty much a cruel joke. I got offered a few different jobs with them. I quit three weeks into my training when I realized they were basically a union buster and a scam. They string people along for years without ever granting them the promised state teahcing license. becuas they know that if they actually license you in their supposedly guaranteed three year period, you'll leave them and teach for real in a direct hire union job.

  44. Bitter Scribe Says:

    The absolute worst thing would be to teach stand-up comedy.

  45. Major Kong Says:

    My first gig in the Air Force was T-38 instructor pilot.

    I'd sit in the back seat and let people hurl my body at the ground at high speed, while I very calmly and coolly whispered words of quiet encouragement to the student –

    "Whatareyoudoingupthere?areyoutryingtokillme?watchyourairspeed!I'VEGOTTHEAIRPLANE!!!!"

    Ahem.

  46. Totoro Says:

    Ed,

    Only tangential to the thrust of the post but I wonder if you would comment some time about the difference between "standup" and the nightly monologue that folks like Jay Leno and his ilk do. These guys are thrown a new set of jokes each night and have to present them. Clearly they have been involved in the crafting of each one and probably get at least one run-through before showtime, but it would seem to be a very different beast from the longer standup routine which, as you say, has been done hundreds of times.

  47. Davis X. Machina Says:

    Part of the problem is, everyone went to school. Not everyone's had, say, thoracic surgery.

    So there's a million people ready, willing and able to second-guess the teacher. The chest cutter…. not so much.

  48. momesq Says:

    I could practically have written this article, with the reverse experience. I'm a longtime lawyer working on a masters in education to teach adolescent English. I have a fancy educational background and two graduate degrees already, and even after only five ed. courses I can already see just how complex a craft teaching is. The disrespect given this profession is disheartening. Nobody really likes lawyers, and everyone and his brother thinks that having watched a few episodes of Law and Order qualifies one to try a case, but at least lawyers are understood to be professionals who spend years learning the law and the craft of lawyering. If I didn't feel so passionately about teaching, I'd probably give up.

  49. Barry Says:

    Major Kong Says:
    February 24th, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    "My stepdaughter was dating a rather arrogant lawyer for a while (fortunately not any more). She brought him over for dinner one night and he asked me this question:

    "So, is it really that hard to land a jet?"

    Apparently he'd recently mastered Microsoft Flight Simulator and now felt qualified to do my job as well.

    "Yes, it really is that hard. And if I screw it up I'm a smoking crater in the middle of some industrial park near the airport.""

    He's probably used to a field where f-ing it up means that the *client* goes to prison (or loses money). The lawyer gets away.

  50. quixote Says:

    Part of the reason everybody thinks they know how to teach is that everybody teaches. Brothers and sisters teach each other how to hit a softball. Parents teach their kids to tie their shoe laces. You've maybe helped the kid down the street learn addition.

    And that is teaching. That is part of what a professional teacher does. In addition, she has to transmit hugely more complex subject matter (say a whole book of knots, not just one pair of laces), she presents it not to one kid at a time but dozens of kids of varying abilities and needs, she explains the concepts and practice lucidly while mentally thinking ahead to her next three sentences and the overall structure of that day's learning. At the same time she's paying attention to her students, noting which ones and how many look a bit blank, adjusting her presentation on the fly to her audience, providing individual help if the class is small enough. And, of course, she's emanating enough interest in her topic to be infectious.

    That's the performance art aspect. It's as energy intensive as any performance art. People who wonder why teachers don't work eight hour in-class days should notice that neither do actors or musicians or ballerinas. It's physically impossible. Unless you turn teaching into reading to the class, which I've seen happen when the workload gets ridiculous.

    Then, as with other performance artists, there's all the prep time. You have to practice your craft. You have to keep learning and keep up with the field. You have to write tests, lectures, discussion questions, labs. And then, for teachers, there's also grading. Lots and lots and lots of grading.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that on some level people know all this. Otherwise, as another commenter pointed out earlier, why didn't they all go into this super-cushy well-paid (hah!) job that anyone can do?

  51. Neal Deesit Says:

    The best thing I've ever seen on the nuts and bolts of being a stand-up comedian is the documentary "Comedian," featuring a very wealthy and famous post-"Seinfeld" Jerry Seinfeld working up a new routine for Letterman's show, and a relative newbie trying to break into the business. Stand-up comedy is a road paved with disappointment and rejection, much of it delivered publicly and immediately.

    The visible face of teaching (and many other jobs) is largely verbal performance, so, having seen it, some people assume that the performance is all there is to it. They don't see or understand the education, training, and preparation that make it possible to perform well and apparently effortlessly.

    So, next time you get a particularly glib non-teacher who thinks that he or she could do your job better than you do, instead of trying to explain what makes teaching more difficult than he or she thinks it is, or settling for "Try it, then you'll understand," just say "You know, you probably could, but just as a test run, give me your best five minutes on the history and development of voting in the United States, with an emphasis on racial discrimination and gerrymandering." Then look at your watch and say "Starting……NOW!" It will likely be the longest 5 minutes in Mr./Ms. Glib's recent experience.

  52. sluggo Says:

    Late to the party. Need to throw in my 2 cents because I am the intended target.

    I think that I could teach and do stand up better than most.

    Here's why:I am willing to speak in front of a crowd. That puts me in the the 50th percentile right off the bat. Substitute teaching while between jobs made me understand that I could handle a classroom without chaos erupting. I also understand that practice, coaching and preparing is part of the game and would commit to that. That moves me further up percentile wise.

    That said, I'll probably never teach school and other than this comment, I keep my mouth about how I could do someone else's job better. I will give standup a try sometime in the future though.

  53. Arslan Says:

    I generally agree that college is highly overrated and not for everyone, but what are you supposed to do when virtually every decent job requires a four-year degree, even if it has nothing to do with the job you're applying for? Recently I asked about a stateside job as a TEFL instructor. TEFL courses are not rocket science(many of TEFL schools are practically diploma mills), and whereas they wanted two years experience teaching abroad, I had eight at the time I wrote to them. They listed a four-year degree in the requirements, but no particular subject such as linguistics. I mentioned this in my e-mail and they didn't even bother to get back to me. The fact that I would have been doing the actual job for almost a decade by the time I moved there was irrelevant to them. The fancy piece of paper was more important.