After graduating from Texas A&M (’93 WHOOP!), I spent a couple years doing technical support and technical writing. Then, when the 3rd company went out of business dumping all couple hundred of us on the unemployment line, I went for my teaching certificate in a Post-Baccalaureate program at University of Texas – Austin (’99 Hook ‘em Horns!). Yep, that means I have degrees from rival universities.
A 14-year career in elementary education ended with catastrophic burn-out from doing endless test prep and 80+hour work weeks, and I went back to school in an online Master’s program at Walden University in their Adult Learning program with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. I am continuing my education, so E is for Learning.
I enjoy teaching. I really do, even though I completely redline the “introvert” meter on every personality test I’ve ever taken. I like helping people “get it,” showing them how to do what they didn’t know or didn’t think they could do. Even when I was doing technical support, that was the one part of the job that was not a total drain on the mental resources.
As I progressed through the Master’s program, I expected to see big differences between teaching kids and teaching adults. I’d taught adults before while doing Project WILD facilitation for Texas Parks and Wildlife and teaching professional development in the districts where I worked. I hadn’t seen much difference then, but I suspected that was because I didn’t know what to look for.
What struck me about the Master’s program was the similarities between teaching kids and adults. There are differences, sure, but there’s a lot in common. Maintaining engagement and providing lessons that balance difficulty and interest are not too different. The way you design courses, units, and individual lessons is not that different. You begin by considering where the student needs to be when you’re done and where the student starts, and then you plan all the lessons, activities, and resources you’ll need to get that gap to close. The biggest difference? Finding the right combination of authoritative and authoritarian.
When dealing with kids, I had to maintain some pretty rigid structure in the class, especially as more and more lessons became scripted with a mandate that teachers should follow the script “with high fidelity.” That high fidelity involves a more authoritarian approach. The teacher is in control. With adult classes, the instructor can be more authoritative, providing direction and information as needed without getting heavy-handed with the power. I think I’ll like that more. “Driving with the horn” didn’t suit my personality well, but with some of the collections of interesting kids in my classes, that was the only way to maintain order and keep things moving.
I’m just about done with the Master’s program and on the lookout for a job in my new field. Then I’ll be able to see firsthand what differences are when I get to teach a group of adults more frequently.
Your next prompt is… F is for Dinner.