As schools begin disgorging students for the summer, a few teaching moments from the past seem worth recalling. Although I’ve never been more than a substitute in any public school system, its legitimate to feel good about knowing you’ve conveyed a specific fact in an unforgettable manner along the way. As a scholastic fundraiser, career sales person and writer-content creator, certain Aha! moments have helped me remember actual teaching is a pretty amazing thing.
Cooking class of eight 1st-3rd graders. While working on a (successful) mayoral campaign in upstate NY, my folks ‘suggested’ I do something job-wise, so I became the Cooking Instructor at a Girls Club. It was about a two month gig: four classes a week, right at 100 minutes a class, from explaining what we’d be doing for the day, aprons and hands washed, through practice peeling or whatever, produce food, eat, clean up, out by 5:00. Eating was an essential part of the learning for sure.
Getting eight-1st-3rd graders through a spaghetti dinner from scratch felt amazing. Opening cans and stirring were kitchen skills I knew many of these young students would actually be called on to do at home. We cooked the meat and seasoned the sauce– they knew things were hot, we were careful while ladling the burger into the sauce. The ultimate moment, because *everyone* wanted to break up their own spaghetti, was pausing slightly in my explanation of holding in the middle– because one girl didn’t and sprayed pieces all over the counter–and finishing, “so that doesn’t happen.” Lesson locked in. The one about tossing spaghetti at ceiling to check for done…
Ballston Spa Pop Warner cheerleaders My first fundraising group out of training, our product is cookbooks, and its 48 cheerleaders who want to earn money for their football jackets. Girls don’t know what they’ll be selling, but everyone brought a list of at least 30 potential customers. We always drape the product until a certain point—no sense having anyone decide what you’re pushing is the wrong thing and they’re not doing it.
I ask the girls if they knew what the best selling book in country (overall) was, and while there were some guesses from mothers, nobody said ‘the Bible’ until I did. As I turned to unveil the cookbooks, to show them what #2 was, a little voice said, “We’re gonna sell BIBLES!” and after I swallowed a laugh, kept them REAL excited about why these books were a great idea.
It wasn’t the girls that got taught something that day, it was me. My company had prepared me for this, I did as we practiced, and BAM! everything worked just the way it was supposed to. All 48 girls earned enough for jackets, I had important first start under my belt, and having learned I could 100% trust the system, I confidently began three good years of fundraising.
Judy with a goalie stick is easy. As Head Coach of the Women’s Ice Hockey Club team at Brockport St., I did whatever I could to help our goalie, Judy. Just before we played a (supposed) mens ‘B’ team (no checking or slap shots) to tune up our team for the season, I reminded her to keep her stick on the ice—she had a habit of waving it, often because in intramurals, making one save was usually adequate. Playing against obviously stronger and more experienced men, with our first-time-ever-all-together defense, we couldn’t move guys out, so they kept poking at the puck when Judy made saves.
At the end, a solid 11-5 moral victory of a loss, we counted 73 shots on goal. After she skated to the bench, Judy pulled up her mask and said, “Guess I kept my stick on the ice, huh?” Perfect! Is ANY lesson better learned than a measure of success in adversity? Hey, if it didn’t kill you, you get to use the experience whenever similar situations come up again.
JA class-5th grade noise levels. I was a volunteer for school-related Junior Achievement, a 5-week program. The last session, it turns out the teacher won’t be there, it’s a substitute. As we get into things, the noise level just keeps going up, you can’t hear the group presentations or questions. The third time I whistle for attention, there’s a second of quiet, but they’re not looking at me—its another teacher from down the hall.
“WHO is doing the shrill whistling down here?” she looks around. I don’t recall if anyone actually *pointed*, but I admitted I had. Teacher digests that a second, turns back to kids and says, “WHY was this teacher feeling he needed to whistle to get attention?” That she might need to tell Mrs. Whoever what happened– and it mattered to those kids– taught me the whole system isn’t broken yet.
Best teaching moment in a long time came as a reading tutor with WyzAnt. In my first session with 8th grader, I asked her to pay attention to the punctuation, take pauses when dashes, commas, semi-colons, or periods showed up vs. run things together. By the 3rd session, I could tell she was consistently pacing the way I was reading along.
Teachers make a difference; remember that when you get a chance to act like one.