If any of you follow my occasional twitters, you might know that this weekend I filled in at the fencing club, teaching a couple youth classes. Officially, I coached for a year at Notre Dame (my second senior year: victory lap) and unofficially I coached a couple of my teammates as early as sophomore year. When I was in high school I lead footwork and gave lessons to beginners. Coaching ought to be right up my alley.
In fact, teaching in general ought to be an ideal career for me. I love kids, generally they like me, I’m good at keeping things interesting and good at explaining things. I’ve considered teaching middle school (my favorite age group) several times, but keep abandoning the idea. I’m currently in an MFA program rather than an MA program primarily because it’s a teaching degree, I could become a college professor. All signs point me to teaching, there’s just one reason I’ve never ended up in that career.
I don’t like it.
Now, I’ve never technically tried to teach in a classroom setting, but I’ve done enough coaching to know that it makes me terribly uncomfortable. The closest thing I’ve done in a class is oral presentations, and I LOATH them. This is kind of weird, because really I’m not your typical wallflower. I love to talk. I love to have people listen to me. I love to say smart things, or at least things that sound smart.
Somehow though, that all crumples away when I’m standing in front of people and expected to impart wisdom from some grander plan rather than spontaniously chiming in.
Maybe the key word here is plan. “Plan” is some amazing thing I never do, I always tell myself, this time, this time I’ll prepare, and I never do. Probably with class presentations this is the real reason I freak out so much. I always think I know enough to go up there and BS my way through it. Honestly? Usually I do. As much as I hate class presentations I’ve always done well on them.
Teaching fencing is much the same, I’m always terribly anxious on the inside, but I seem to do fine from the student or parent’s point of view. And with fencing I’ve actually tried to do some preparation. I’ve asked several coaches for lesson plans to start out with. My brother actually sat down with me once and wrote down what he does in a lesson, but it didn’t seem to stick to my brain. Another coach once gave me a DVD of several fencing lessons. It wouldn’t run.
It seems to work a little better when I plan on my own, when I sit down and think about the sort of things I ought to do. Except I rush. I come up with an hour’s worth of material for a half hour lesson and I’m through it in fifteen minutes.
Teaching I think is just not for me. I would however, make a good tutor.
When I think about the times I’ve been in a teaching position and actually felt good about the result, it’s always been more like tutoring. I sit down with someone and help them understand something they’ve already been taught. It’s less formal, less structured, and less pressure.
I’m not sure what that says about me. That I have all the traits of a good teacher but no spine for it? That I can’t hold my mind in enough control to do something important? For me, that’s the core of the problem. I really do think teaching is a horribly important, difficult job. If I thought I wouldn’t hate it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.