Adventures in Teaching
Whether or not you have what it takes to be a teacher is a complicated question to answer. Aptitude in teaching in certain areas of your life may or may not translate into the ability to hold the attention of a room full of students.
Bob Huang knows the difference all too well. He currently works as a customer service representative at IBM. Prior to that, he was working as a production assistant on the local news and sports programs for the North Carolina affiliate of the WB Television Network.
In these positions, he has demonstrated an aptitude for training. “I had to train the new guys on camera and techniques, and everyone said I was a good teacher and I was really helpful,” Huang said. “At IBM, I train people all the time, and they say it’s good. But in terms of being in an actual teacher-student situation, I don’t know if I’d want to do that again.”
Huang is referring to his stint as a teacher prior to working at the WB. For two years, he taught Introduction to Computers at North Carolina State University. The experience was, at times, unpleasant.
Huang’s approach to commanding respect in the classroom was essentially to try to establish friendly relations with the students. In particular, he seized on his appreciation of professional wrestling as a characteristic that might allow him to relate to the students.
“I specifically remember a guy who really did not like me and sneered at everything I said, and then [wrestler] Diamond Dallas Page won the world title, and I said something about it,” Huang said. The student suddenly spoke up, voicing his disgust with this event. Huang was surprised: “I’m like, ‘Oh, you’re talking to me now! I’m worth talking to, huh, buddy?’”
Huang feels in the long term, however, taking the approach of being a friend to the students undid any authority he might have had over the classroom.
“I was trying to be relatable, and I think in some ways that helped, but in other ways, that hurt, because they knew they could walk all over me,” Huang said. “I don’t think I failed anyone, even though some people were blatantly cheating. They were supposed to make Web sites, and you could look at the code and see that they made features in Microsoft Word instead of actually making code. I could have failed every one of them, but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to deal with it.”
In one particular instance, Huang did try to deal with a nonperforming student and found himself in a nightmarish situation. He informed a student who hadn’t been attending class or turning in assignments that he wasn’t going to be able to give her any credit.
“She stormed out and went and got her mom, and then [they] came back and waited outside the classroom, and once everyone left, they came in, and they both started screaming at me, saying I’d been out to get her since day one, even though she hadn’t been there from day one,” Huang said. “And then we had a talk with my manager, and her mom accused me of sneering at her, and my boss was like, ‘Well, you do have a sneer on your face sometimes, even though you’re not trying to,’ and I was just like, ‘Dude.’”
The lesson in all this is that in approaching a classroom scenario, trying to be friendly and approachable is effective, but only to a degree. “I do regret it; I think I should have been tougher, absolutely,” Huang said. “I let people walk all over me. You need to keep up the appearance that it’s a chain of command. You’re not supposed to be their buddy.”
– Daniel Margolis, firstname.lastname@example.org