I am almost through with my first semester of teaching Introduction to Business to a group of mostly college freshmen. What An Experience! I’m learning SO much—about how to teach, how to communicate more clearly, about my students, but most of all about myself. Getting in front of a classroom of twenty 17-20-something year-old kids first thing in the morning is nothing, if not a humbling experience. They’re my captive audience–that is, when they are not glued to their cell phone or otherwise engaged. I never thought it would be so difficult to command 80 minutes of attention. I’ve spoken successfully to professional audiences in the past, and in my career as a market researcher, I had to give presentations and chair meetings that were way longer, myriad times. Yet, these kids are a challenge. I keep striving to be a better communicator. It is my job, not theirs to keep them engaged or in the very least, entertained.
So I’m learning and growing and evolving as a teacher. Here are 3 of the biggest lessons I have gleaned thus far.
- It’s not about me, it’s all about them. Well this was a shocker. One of my biggest concerns coming into teaching this course was not being able to be the dynamic presenter I know I can be. In my first few classes, I left dejected when I felt I didn’t do a good job “presenting” the information. But then I had an ‘aha’ moment when I realized these kids could give a darn about my presenting skills. They were there to learn, and to get the highest grade they were capable of. Whether I presented the content flawlessly or clumsily was moot if they did not learn a few things after that class. So I started to relax. Once I let myself off the hook, I was really able to be PRESENT to them. What DID they really need from me? How could I make them understand the difference between fiscal and monetary policy, at its most basic level, without whipping myself into a frenzy drawing charts on the board trying to impress them with my skills? Once I realized that I was there to serve them completely with everything I had to offer, I could really begin to teach.
- Keep it Real. You know who you really can’t impress especially when you’re trying? College aged students! They really don’t care how smart I am or how many degrees I have. I can’t “pretend” to be a teacher. I can only be me. Because of my personality, I’m very self –conscious when I don’t know the answers to their questions. And to be honest, there is a lot I don’t know. Once I gave up trying to be perfect and instead focused on being authentic, I fostered stronger connections with them. In my first class, I was using the restaurant Chipotle as an example for a SWOT analysis, and I noticed a few of them snickering. Well I’ll be darned—I had been pronouncing it CHIP-OL-TE for years and never realized it until these students corrected me. I had to laugh with them and just let it go. I know it endeared me to them that much more. I’m not perfect. I’m human. And that’s exactly as it should be.
- Never Assume. My class is diverse as you would expect at a community college. These kids are there for a variety of reasons and they have varying levels of ability. In my first few classes, I was trying so hard to impress the “smart kids” that I was excluding the ones who were really learning many of the concepts for the first time. The latter are the majority. But I was so insecure about my abilities as a teacher, that it never occurred to me until class number 7 after the first exam, that the majority of the students needed me to go a whole lot slower. I was assuming they all got it. Grading that first exam was an eye opener. I was appalled by how little seemed to be sinking in. But it forced me to dig deep and try a new approach. Now I teach for the weakest kid in that class. I know the smart kids will get it. But if I can make an underperformer get it? Priceless! This is now what fuels me.
Teaching might be my toughest job yet. But now I understand what they say about this work being fulfilling, if you approach it with the right heart. And I figure, if I can be a decent teacher, then there probably isn’t anything that I can’t do if I put my mind and heart into it, and get out of my own way.
Natalie Jobity is an inspirational author, marketing consultant and freelance writer and editor. She is the author of the Amazon Best-selling style guide:Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. Email her at Natalie@Nataliejobity.com.