Like on any ride, there are twists and turns. The following piece, originally published in Blogcritics, is a departure from my usual fare. Don’t worry, in no time, I will be back to my usual snarky shallow self. But for now, I invite you to enjoy this ride on “The Ride”.
“Everything I Know I’ve Learned in School”
As one very hectic semester closes and the summer session begins, I pause, yet briefly, to reflect on what was and why, after all these years, I am still in this place – in front of the classroom. It was like yesterday when I heard the words, “You really ought to teach.” In truth, it was a hundred yesterdays since that fateful day when he, that tall, gangly, brown haired, middle-aged guy, a graduate school professor, spoke the words that would eventually transform my life.
I was studying television production in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I survived the Northridge earthquake, but I wouldn’t survive the mercurial and insular entertainment industry. I was too East Coast (whatever the hell that means) and not willing to compromise all of my principles.
I did take a job as an extras casting assistant for a now well-known urban film that proved to be a star-making vehicle for its lead actress and a badge of disgrace for me. Among my many tasks was to cast women as strippers using real life “professionals.” I can say confidently, I put women onthe pole.
My last attempt at entry into the fantasyland known as Hollywood was as a producer’s assistant at a major animation studio. Since subservience is not my specialty, I should have known she and I would mutually agree to part ways and quickly.
To add insult to my already injured ego and bank account, my car died, as did my dreams of becoming a writer/producer, which made an invitation from my mother to relocate to Montgomery, Alabama an enticing proposition. So, it was off to Alabama — to teach — recommendations and resume in hand. (I learned later my misadventures made for a few laughs as I chronicled them in my book, Bearing Witness: Not So Crazy in Alabama).
I remember my first teaching job as an adjunct instructor of communication studies. I looked out at a sea of equally anxious faces knowing I had to capture, if not the hearts, at least the attention of, the toughest demo of the all, 18-24-year-olds. If advertisers and media experts couldn’t figure them out, who the hell was I to try to do so, I thought.
I relied too much on my notes and too little on my ability to analyze the information and give it real world relevance. With each subsequent teaching assignment, though, I learned something about myself (e.g.: I hate lecturing), gained confidence, and discovered “my voice”, which was outspoken and sassy while still being instructive.
Today, as I teach business communication and public relations in New York City, I look at the classroom as a lab, a grand experiment in how to survive in an increasingly complex, competitive, and diverse world. It is where the efficacy of ideas is tested as they are applied to “real world” situations.
Individuals, including myself, are tested as well. Sometimes we excel. Sometimes we barely pass. Sometimes we fail, but we — if we are true to our personal vision and our personal promise — never stop pressing towards the mark. We know for certain that long after class has ended, school will still be in session.