Blog: No Mercy for Career Education Instructors

Few writers can say that they are in fact failed stand-up comedians, but it has happened to me – and that might be funnier than any joke I could ever hope to tell. I think, now, that I merely had an affinity for words and for storytelling back then, just before my 19th and 20th birthdays. I’d scribble half-funny things I said at parties and while riding shotgun with friends (oddly enough, on car rides mostly to parties) into a private notebook I kept pushed under my bed. Then I’d come back to the material later to write a comedy act, pull out the notebook thick with dust bunnies and the half-funny jokes read like very serious excerpts from Chaucer or Dickens or maybe Exodus. The only way they could be funny is if the person saying them could impersonate Charlton Heston or talk about all the people begotting and how no one uses that word anymore to describe procreation.

I’ve never been a professor, either, but you don’t have to be one to see the challenges. I suspect career educators face the obstacles that any educator faces … only multiplied by 10. Career educators teach students who are often not adept at classroom learning – to classroom sitting or to classroom listening. Most didn’t enjoy high school and are more familiar to (and better understand the concept of) the working world and getting paid for your effort, rather than paying to listen to lectures.

Career college instructors could be likened to comedians who are working the stage with a bad sound system and a few hecklers in the front row. Okay, so maybe that metaphor is a little over the top, but the point is that our educators aren’t exactly on a fantasy cruise ship performing for tourists with a few drinks in them and who are just waiting on the first punch-line to let the laughter flow.

Nonetheless, these instructors apparently are slaying their audience. Every joke they toss out right now gets a laugh. Even the servers making the rounds are looking over their shoulders through their drink trays to see who is being so funny.

Recent financial reports show how effective career education instructors are being. In the down economy, the big school conglomerates are posting record revenue numbers … to my knowledge, there hasn’t been any great retention-related issues. Maybe that has something to do with the students’ age. Maybe the non-traditional students who are returning to college to forward their careers – or change their career direction – know something about commitment.

Students shouldn’t get all the credit, though. For instructors inside our schools, there is no leeway for a down day. The programs move too quickly and your audience is too difficult. You have to be on and intriguing your students, or they are going to give up fast. Several articles in past editions of Career College Central have focused on the need to be entertaining – not just engaging – in the classroom. Students today are surrounded by entertainment options constantly. Teachers have to give them something better than what they can find in their iPod, on their Smart Phone, their wii, or online. An ordinary classroom lecture isn’t going to be able to capture their attention.

My blog posts may or may not make you want to read on. As a writer, I have more bad days than good. I practice most days, and when I don’t, I have convinced myself I am living life in order to gather material to write about later on. I can have a bad day at the office and, as long as I haven’t procrastinated too long and missed my deadline, the mercy is I can start fresh the next day and hope the words come – brilliantly – from the wellspring.

For career educators, there is no such mercy. No day can be too mundane. They are on stage, the audience is listening and what they say has to educate and entertain. Those are the rules they agree to in this profession. Everyone thinks they are a comedian, but only the brave should consider themselves material for career education.

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