Discrediting the Amateur

Recent events in my life have reminded me of an old blog post I wrote a few years ago.

Like a number of teachers I’ve known, I had already learned a lot about teaching long before I ever set foot in a teacher prep program. I had tutored classmates, taught small classes to younger students and kids my own age, and helped develop educational programs that I ended up presenting in planetaria and museums.

No one ever sat me down and explained how to control a room full of energetic preschoolers.

No one ever told me how to develop an educational program so that visitors took away information.

I got very little time to shadow someone else doing the job I was about to be asked to do.

But when I walked into the teacher prep program after three years of being involved with the education department of a planetarium and a museum, I already knew much of what the professors were talking about. I had to learn specific terminology. I had to learn about the university’s preferred format for lesson and unit plans. I had to learn about special needs groups. I had to learn about assessment.

Because of a lifetime spent teaching in some capacity, I understood the theory behind what I was being told. I was praised by master teachers for my great solutions to issues, all developed while babysitting, tutoring, or teaching.

Do I think going through the teacher prep program was a waste of time? No. I learned some very useful information. I had a chance to practice teaching in different situations that I might not have had while teaching in museums and planetaria. I passed my certification exams.

In all honesty, I’ve spent two-thirds of my life as an amateur teacher and only the last third as a professional teacher. Does anyone hold  the first two-thirds of my life against me professionally? Nope.

Right now, there is fear going on. Fear that the technological revolution that has quietly swept through the schools will spell certain doom for a number of professions. [dead link] Children not old enough to drive are turning out simple multimedia projects, web sites, graphic designs, and writing that most of us (even those of us who are part of the video game generation) couldn’t have even imagined when we were their age.

These kids are looking at what’s out there and saying, “Cool! I bet I could do that.” They’re duplicating what they see, and some of them are using that as a launch pad to find their own voice in the medium. They aren’t as polished as someone with twice their experience in some cases, but they’re gaining skills that could help them find a career working with that medium. All without setting foot in a professional program.

Amateurs are a very dangerous lot, I guess. They find someone they admire or can’t stand. They learn the medium, often through self-study or by networking with other amateurs. They develop a passion for the medium. Then they practice. Like their professional counterparts, some continue learning, practicing, or growing. Others follow their professional counterparts by becoming arrogant, half-competent practitioners.

It’s just a different pay scale.

It’s still valid. It’s another level of that autodidactic apprenticeship. Except these days, it can lead to “professional” status before you even realize what’s going on, making it more like an accidental apprenticeship.

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