Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Best Day Job in the Universe - The Joy of Teaching

Last week I introduced you to the fun of my job. Playing with starship simulators is definitely entertaining, but the real power of my job comes from the teaching. It's a lot like writing except the payoff is more immediate.

How do you feel when a fan contacts you to tell you they loved your book? Warm fuzzies all over. Knowing you have touched a child's mind is powerful. We as writers are long-distance teachers. We say we're just providing entertainment, but think about what's buried in your story. What lessons are you teaching your readers? Compassion? Loyalty? Persistence? Look at what your characters value. Look at what they do to finally win against the odds. Those are the lessons you teach through your writing.

I'm a teacher, by training and profession. At the space center, I run our planetarium and write the lesson plans we use for the field trip groups. The best pay for my job is hearing the kids whispering in the planetarium, pointing out the stars to their friends. I love sharing my passion for astronomy. It's powerful when you make a connection with someone. Listen to the awe in their voices on their first time seeing the wonders of space, finding a constellation, or just plain looking up at night. I'm opening their eyes to the glory and beauty that exists all around us.

Three of us teach at the center. We had a huge discussion a couple years ago about the objective of our lessons. Teachers usually teach for comprehension and understanding. Repetition is key to that kind of teaching. We had an epiphany as we discussed our upcoming lesson for the school year. We weren't teaching for comprehension. Our whole objective was to throw information at the children as fast as we could. We wanted even the brightest student in the class to leave with more questions than answers. We wanted them to glimpse how much we didn't know yet about space and time and physics. We pushed those little 5th and 6th graders clear into college physics on a regular basis. With only 45 minutes at best, we can't teach a topic for comprehension. But we can raise questions and introduce concepts.

We pull out all the stops, producing a multimedia presentation with as many experiments and demonstrations and eye-catching decorations as we can finagle. We have to at least pretend to compete with the simulators. Some days, it falls flat. The kids are bored and restless or rude and obnoxious. It happens. But if I touch even one young mind, I have succeeded.

With my writing, it's the same way. We as authors touch one mind at a time. We aren't going to win over every person who reads, but we can touch those who resonate with our stories. We can make a difference one life at a time.

This turned into more of an essay about the power of teaching than one about the space center, but teaching and education are central to what we do at the space center. Even the simulators exist as teaching tools. Most of our staff and customers don't realize it; they think they are there for entertainment. But I know better.

To borrow a quote from Christa McAuliffe, the teacher the center is named after, "I touch the future. I teach."


  1. Wonderful post! I taught grade school for 4 years, then taught preschool for many more. I'm currently planning to go back to school to get my early childhood endorsement and teaching certification renewed and go back to teaching.

    I sure remember thee teachers who I looked up to-- they influenced huge portions of my life and outlook.

  2. Wow, Jaleta, what a powerful post. It really gives us writers perspective on the end product of our work, which ultimately is touching other minds, showing them new things, new places and providing new perspectives. I never before realized what strong parallels exist between teaching and writing. Reminds me of one of our Brigade mottos--"Conquering the Universe--One Story at a Time."

    And I have seen the quote, "I touch the future. I teach." on t-shirts, mugs and mousepads, but I never knew Christa McAuliffe said it. She truly left a legacy that will last for many generations.

  3. Christa McAuliffe's legacy will live on. What a powerful life she led.

    And I have to admit, I never really connected teaching and writing either until recently. But when you strip away everything else, isn't storytelling about touching minds and hearts? And weren't the most powerful teachers storytellers?


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