My Education as a Teacher

I graduated college in 1969. For three years I had three majors, literature, philosophy and history. In my senior year I stuck with literature and gave up the rest. I married that year.

So what would I do after I graduated? I could go into the Navy as was my first plan before I received a scholarship to college.

It was the time of the Vietnam War and I figured I would have to serve my country and the Navy seemed the part of the armed forces I’d like the best. After all, I was a strong swimmer. (Why I ever thought that had anything to do with the Navy is beyond me.) Also, I would continue my writing career while I sailed the seven seas. I knew I would become a famous writer as did everyone who put pen or typewriter to paper.

But this Navy plan changed when a friend of mine, Lucy Winiarski, suggested I become a teacher in Suffolk County on Long Island. She had already secured herself a position.

“All you have to do is go in for an interview and take twelve credits of education courses in the summer. They need teachers,” she said.

I never considered being a teacher. Essentially I thought of teachers as people who had the impossible job of controlling kids. As a kid I looked at other kids, I knew how hard it was to control us. Secondarily, these poor schnooks had to educate the students as well. That seemed like trying control a mob of monkeys.

Throughout my schooling, I did have some good teachers, no doubt about that, and many competent ones, no doubt about that either, but the majority were either passible or bad. College professors tended to be somewhat dull with a few exceptions, so joining the ranks of teachers didn’t exactly thrill me. Still I needed money to pay my living expenses.

I went for the interview, got the job on the condition that I get those 12 education credits over the summer, and that was that. I was to become a teacher. Would I even survive this? I’d be teaching seventh grade in an all-seventh-grade school. I figured those kids would probably kill me. But what the hell? Nothing ventured, nothing killed.

I could swim in the Navy or sink in the classroom. I’d try the classroom first and if I drowned there, I’d swim over to the Navy.

So I had to get those education credits. I enrolled in four classes, two each summer session, and there I was the first day of the first class with my notebook opened on my desk awaiting the professor of education who would open the wonders of teaching to me and to all of the education students.

She didn’t. She was awful. She was the worst teacher I had ever had in a college course, or so I thought, until I met the next education teacher. He was worse. He was – in short – an idiot. He and the course had no substance, so I was left dreaming of the high seas. Every eye of just about every student in this guy’s class was droopy within a minute. The class was 90 minutes long!

I took almost no notes. There was no information in the courses, just silly theories about how students act and react. Hadn’t these professors ever gone to school? Were either of these professors ever kids?

And the students in their education classes? A few seemed intelligent and even more than a few seemed like nice people. The rest? Not too impressive. I figured they would be eaten alive when they got into a classroom. I also figured I’d be eaten alive. Perhaps cannibalism awaited all of us, the smart ones and the dumb ones. I didn’t kid myself into thinking that my students would welcome me with loving arms as I entered their classroom.

Their classroom? The professor droned on about their classroom. No, no; my classroom. Yes, the battle – the very first battle – would be in defining whose classroom this was. It had to belong to me, not the students, but if the students took control, they would be the main force in the room. I already knew that some teachers owned the classroom; some teachers were always teetering on the edge of doom and others were devoured by the school of sharks. Yes, I thought, as the professor droned on, a classroom of students could be a school of sharks.

I made it through the first two education courses. Actually, I think an ape could have done that. In my 33 years of teaching the worst level of education came in education courses, usually taught by people who couldn’t teach, offering scant information that at best belonged in comedy clubs. My first six credits instilled in me a disdain for my new profession.

The next six credits taught me a lot, not about education, but about one aspect of teaching that stayed with me for my whole career. One of my two professors was a master teacher, a true master. His curriculum, as with all education curricula, was a waste of time, talent and money, but this professor could teach a class!

He was energetic. He was pleasant. And he was funny. I enjoyed watching him as he taught. I enjoyed how he goaded and brought out ideas in the students – even if the ideas were silly. He could nudge but he was never mean even if he were teasing a student.

I quickly took a seat at the side of the class so that I could watch him teach and learn how he interacted with the students. The guy was no spring chicken; I’m guessing he was about 65 or so – an age I now consider young!

While I didn’t learn anything of merit in the curricula of those two classes, I did see a great teacher in action. His humor was a key ingredient. The students stayed awake because they didn’t want to miss what the guy would say. He also never took offense at anything a student said. He looked as if he enjoyed every minute in the classroom.

I left there knowing that I had to be funny, entertaining, energetic and engaging. Would I be able to do that? Only time would tell.

I also had to tame the sharks.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from Amazon.com, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

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