One of the first things that happens when you're hired at RRC is that you're told that you must take Certificate in Adult Education (CAE) courses. It's like RRC saying, "Now that we've hired you as an instructor, you should learn how to be an instructor." Good plan!
The first course I took was called "What is a teacher?" Actually, it wasn't - but that was the question on my mind, as I looked around the room at my classmates: a ragtag bunch of "new teachers." The only sorrier sight I've ever seen is a group of "new writers" trying to get disinterested people to buy an autographed book at McNally Robinson.
I remember looking enviously at the new carpentry instructors in the room and thinking, "They've got hack saws - no one is going to mess with them. What have I got?"
Jay Leno's old joke: "At the end of First Blood, Rambo says, "The most powerful weapon is the mind." Oh, yeah, Rambo? In that case, you better take some of these rocket launchers with you."The first essay they get you to write is called: "Why did I decide to become a teacher?" Upon hearing the topic, the carpentry instructors cut through one of the tables with a wet saw.
Me? I lit a pipe, adjusted my monocle, and wrote this essay:
I am an instructor in the Creative Communications program at Red River College’s Princess Street Campus, where I teach Advertising, Public Relations, and Business Communication courses to approximately 75 students.
I’m teaching in the same program from which I graduated 15 years ago, which I think has given me a big advantage in terms of relating to the students and allowed me to put their assignments into a “real world” context (“You need to know this, because…”).
In my off hours, I work as a stand-up comedian, which I’ve also found to have a very practical application in the classroom. Both vocations involve communicating in a meaningful and involving way, and necessitate evaluating feedback to find out what works, what doesn’t work, and – most importantly – why. From there, it’s possible to determine what needs to be done to improve the communication and/or environment next time to achieve the desired goals.
Oh yeah: And when you teach, no one expects you to get a laugh. As the old saying goes, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard."
Rationale (or lack thereof)
To say that I “chose” to teach college, or had a strong rationale behind that choice, would help me complete this assignment, but it wouldn’t be completely true. Unlike most people, I didn’t first have the drive to become a teacher before I became one; rather, I first became a teacher and developed the drive and enthusiasm to excel at the profession afterward.
I discovered the teaching profession by accident recently, when I decided to pursue a PR career in another city. Just weeks before I was to move, I saw an ad in the Winnipeg Free Press for a Business Administration “Communications” instructor at Red River College. I knew that I was well versed in the subject matter, but how would I be as a teacher?
In the back of my mind, I had always been interested in teaching. I come from a family of teachers – my sister teaches performing arts at Grant Park High School; my mother taught elementary school in Charleswood and Linden Woods for many years; and my father’s first job was teaching history at St. James Collegiate and, later in life, he worked as a law-school professor at the University of Manitoba.
As a post-secondary student, I thrived in the academic environment and later fondly recalled my experiences, especially at Red River College. Teaching seemed like a challenge – but one worth the effort – so I applied for the job "on a whim and a prayer."
As part of the job interview, I prepared a 20-minute presentation (“How to Write a Bad-News Letter”), which I delivered in front of a panel of Red River College instructors and administrators.
I found out later from one of the other candidates that he'd misunderstood the assignment, and did a presentation on "How to Write a Bad Newsletter." Imagine the looks on the faces of the panel as he said, "First, make sure your audience has no idea what you're talking about..."
Having been out of school for a good 10 years, the acts of teaching and learning seemed only a vague glimmer in the back of my mind. When I tried to remember how my favorite teachers taught a lesson, I mostly could only remember their personality traits and assorted anecdotes:
- Mr. Harrington in Boston was a funny guy. He made us learn a poem about Abe Lincoln and let me count in the class on the Pledge of Allegiance. "1, 2, 3 - I pledge allegiance to the flag..." He also went nuts when "Joel" gave him the finger.
- Mr. Small was funny. He told me that one day I'd be on TV.
- Mrs. McCartney wore purple and obsessed about the Queen. In grade four, she made us call people in the phone book at random and ask them how they got their name.
- Mr. Semotok took us to Eastern Europe in Grade 11.
- Mr. Vadeboncoeur let us study rock lyrics for poetry class. I studied the Payola$.
- Mr. Gembey planted questions in the audience when he brought in guest speakers. One of them was an insurance agent called Syd Palansky and we named "Syd Palansky Day" after him, and exchanged gifts on that day for many years later. I got a Mr. T puzzle for Syd Palansky Day. What did you get?
- Mr. Pankratz got angry when Jason Riddle said he smelled like B.O.
The point: if I couldn't remember anything that anyone had ever taught me in a classroom, why would my students be any different? Cue sigh of relief.
Thankfully, the presentation went well. I was eventually offered a job teaching Creative Communications at Red River College, which wasn’t the job for which I applied, but the one for which the panel thought I was best-suited.
Having a keen interest in communications in general and Creative Communications in particular, I immediately accepted the job. These interests, and knowing that 75 adult students had paid good money to learn from me, were my primary motivations to be the best teacher I could possibly be.
I’ve made mistakes in my first months as an instructor, but I’ve hopefully learned from these mistakes. In general, I’ve found the teaching experience to be extremely positive, rewarding and exciting.
The students are bright and enthusiastic and constantly impress me with their insights, thoughtfulness, and sense of humor, and I take great pride in seeing them apply the concepts and skills they learn in my class. Knowing what I know now, I would never give up the opportunity to teach adults in the college environment.