Tags: teacher, teaching, web conferencing, radio, Garrison Keillor, Prairie Home Companion
Surprising myself, I am a teacher.
Not under-qualified, apparently, but under-credentialed certainly, I spend a good portion of my working week teaching adult fellow employees how to use the software tool our team supports.
Because of the under-credentialed thing (I am a 20?? graduate of Hard Knox U), I never really thought of myself as teaching material. Indeed, when I came up onto the scene, there was something, forgive me all the teachers in my life, including my supremely patient spouse, something declassé about the “profession” of teaching. It certainly didn’t seem to pay a lot, and that derisive slogan (“them that can’t, teach”) must have colored my opinion early on.
Silly me. No, unless one is tenured at some golden suburban secondary school or first rank university, teaching is still a depressingly under-compensated career. And kids today! I have nothing but awe for those who daily (except for three blessed months during the summer, you fiends!) face today’s MTV’d, video-gamed, reading-free children.
But, I teach adults in a corporate setting. And, better yet, I teach them remotely, via web conference, which provides some excellent insulation: I can’t witness them dozing off, doodling, or (I hope they’ve muted their phone so I can’t hear them) answering email. And by my benighted standards, the pay is acceptable, the benefits better than expected, and I’m not at risk from receiving angry phone calls from parents of misunderstood students.
The dozing off thing comes to mind because yesterday morning I engaged in one of my rare personal appearances. One glance at the blurry photo adorning this page (blurry for public safety reasons) will convince you of the truth of my oft stated slogan: I’ve always been told that I have a great face for radio. But there I was, presenting my technology to the last group in the local area of my employer apparently unaware of it, and I watched a woman deal with my presence and presentation through closed eyes. I was envious.
But, my classes, two to three a week, are conducted via web conference. For the uninitiated, a web conference consists of a telephone conference that accompanies visual material presented from a web site. This visual material can be static, like a presentation, or dynamic, like a demonstration of a live application, but it does not include video of the speaker or participants.
The web conference as teaching medium is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing for some of the reasons noted above (the dozing, the doodling, the email). But a challenge because I am stripped down to my essentials, my voice and how I deliver it. That’s where the radio comment rings so true, since what I have become is not so much a teacher but a radio actor, a genre that seemingly only Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion keeps alive today. I need to engage people by projecting my knowledge and enthusiasm across the wire, for one to two hours at a time, solo.
No wonder I’m worn out at the end of the day. Today was that kind of day. My two-hour advanced topics class, begun at 3pm Central time to accommodate the occasional participant from the West Coast, of whom there was one representative today, I am happy to report. Because a 3pm start of this arduous exercise is tough enough, without the disappointment of realizing that I’ve accommodated no one. It’s like the 8am classes I teach several times a month, designed to enable attendance during the work day for the occasional Western Europe student; I am disappointed to have to work so hard, undercaffeinated, without the payoff of a UK or Netherlands or German participant.
But, the end of day classes are the toughest for me. Not the material, I’ve got that locked down solid. It’s that corporate advantage again: do the same thing enough times and be appreciated for it. But just the fatigue that comes from performing, emoting really, with unknown or insufficient feedback. Most of those radio programs that people are nostalgic for, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee, and the like, and today’s Prairie Home, were/are performed in a studio with an audience of some kind, because actors require feedback. I get some, sometimes, and people are usually more than kind when they fill out our end of session survey. But, it’s a large emotional expenditure with little payoff, short of knowing that the biweekly direct deposit can still be depended upon.
And that’s enough. So, I teach, as I say, surprising myself several times a week. After nearly five years, that’s a happy outcome.
It’s it for now.
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