Saturday, March 2, 2013

Reclaiming an Avocation

In college I wanted to be a math teacher. I majored in math and earned minors in psychology and education. New York State issued me a provisional teaching certificate to allow me to teach grades 7-12.

Fortunately, I graduated in December 1971 in the midst of a recession and couldn’t find a job as a math teacher. I say “fortunately” because I would have been an abysmal high school math teacher. I do not have the patience for teaching people who do not want to learn and let’s face it, most kids in high school are not there because they are math enthusiasts.

I lucked into a career that used my math skills. A few years after I retired, I took up bridge and decided to write a book to help intermediate players. The world’s largest publisher of bridge books liked my writing style and last year One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge was published. To help market the book, I started teaching free mini-lessons at bridge tournaments. I had a good time with those and got some positive feedback. Eventually I was asked to teach a one-session class at the local bridge club.

I was starting from scratch, so the lesson took a long time to prepare. I stood before my twenty-four students and gave it a go. The two hours flew by and that, I figured was that.

Until, over the next few weeks, people asked when I was doing another class.

They said I explained things in a down-to-earth, practical way that made sense to them. They liked the touches of humor I interjected. They enjoyed how they got to think through the practice problems and discovered it was safe to give a wrong answer.

I’m a snowbird and soon left for my six northerly months. When I returned south, I was surprised when people asked if I was going to teach classes again. Because I was spending so much time at bridge tournaments, I didn’t have too much time for teaching. That year I co-taught a few classes with another person, but the lessons were that person’s and while I enjoyed the time, it wasn’t great.

This year, the bridge club owner who had done much of the teaching was unavailable because she had to care for a sick relative. I agreed to teach two of her courses. We’re using bridge books as our textbooks, and I have her teaching notes, but I have a lot of leeway to craft the lesson plans as I choose. On February 1st I taught my first class of twelve newer players.

I had a blast. Again, the two hours flew by. I saw eyes light up as they understood the new concepts we explored. Even more fun was to overhear the “oh, that’s how it works” as they really “got” something they had learned (or mislearned) earlier. They worked the practice deals in groups of four to solve the problems. I moved from table to table to explain, critique and praise and saw how engaged everyone was. I loved it.

Later at home, Jan asked me how the class had gone. I enthused to her as I did in the previous paragraph and that’s when I realized I absolutely loved teaching. Although not my vocation, I think I’ve rediscovered an avocation.

I’m busy working on the next several lessons for my bridge students and also thinking about ways I can work teaching into the library visits I am trying to set up with my upcoming launch of Bad Policy. Those of you who have done or attended library readings, what did you enjoy the most?

~ Jim
(originally posted on Writers Who Kill 2/10/13)

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