Yesterday's entry seems to have awakened a few things in me again. Like, f'rinstance, the feeling that no matter how good I may seem to be at this programming game, or at math, electronics, and so forth, I'll never be more than a grunt. That is, I can do the job and do it well, but I'll never be counted in the ranks of people who go beyond mere competence. Yeah, I've had a few good ideas, but this game is all about creativity and exploration. Or at least it should be.
There is one thing, though, that I'm more than just good at, and that's teaching. It wasn't something I went into on purpose. I was an avionics technician in the Canadian Forces (they used to be Armed, but that sounds a little bit too aggressive for Canadian tastes — I'm sure they'd get rid of the "Force" part if they could find another word) when the decision was made to close the small base I was posted to. (It's entirely coincidental, I'm sure, that both Rocky and I were doing pretty much the same job at the same time.) There was an opening at the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics for an instructor in the basic electronics stream, so that's where I was sent. My contribution to the decision was the fact that I couldn't come up with a reasonable objection to the order.
As a student, I never had much use for the classroom, and in the few classes I sat in on before being loosed on my first group of students, I quickly realised why. The guys I watched hit every teaching point in the lesson plan, all right, and I could even tell what the really important points were — they read the lesson plan a little more loudly at those points. Okay, there was more going on than reading from the lesson plan, but not much more. I was determined to do better.
You've probably heard it said that those who can, do, and those that can't, teach. That may be true to a great extent, but it absolutely not the way it should be. If students are to understand what is being taught, most need to be able to relate the new information to concepts thay already have in hand. Understanding is object-oriented; new concepts ought to extend the old. The challenge in teaching is determining the "base class" upon which one's students can build, and since every student comes into the class with a unique set of interests and experiences, an off-the-shelf analogy will rarely be as effective as one would like. A good teacher, then, needs to be at least somewhat connected to the world the students inhabit, must be willing to engage his or her students at a level that makes it possible to see where working analogies can be drawn from, and needs to know enough about the subject matter to create relationships between what the students know and what they need to learn. To a young private who has been assigned archery as a compulsory hobby while in training (welcome to the military, kid), a strung longbow is a perfect model for explaining FM radio spectrum signatures. A good teacher of FM theory should know that, and know why — and should know why somebody who has never drawn a bowstring wouldn't get it.
I've done a lot of things for a living over the years, from sweeping streets, shining shoes and flipping hamburgers to playing jazz saxophone, from graphic design to programming computers. All of those have been the answer to the question, "what do you do?" There has only ever been one occupation in my life that answers, "what are you?" I am a teacher. It's what I do best. It's what I enjoy most.
Now I have to figure out how to get back into the classroom.