Teaching Teachers

Next week is the CSTA Computer Science & Information Technology Conference in Irvine CA. I’m taking part in a session on July 10th covering phone app development. I’m a little nervous about it. Partly that is because I am one of three people presenting different development environments for different types of phones. You know I want mine to be the coolest and easiest and best of all of course. That’s scary enough but it is also a little scary presenting to teachers. And not just any teachers either – some of the best and brightest and most innovative computer science teachers in American come to CS&IT every year. They know what a good demo and presentation is and they are not afraid to let you know in the session reviews. All of the sessions will be top notch and given by people who know what they are doing. It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to be at the top of your game.

But there is more to it than that. I’ll never forget my first experience presenting a professional development session for teachers. Well actually I do forget some of it – like what it was about. What I do remember though is my principal, a wonderful woman who taught me a lot my first year teaching, who told me 5 minutes before I was to go saying “I didn’t want to tell you this too early so you wouldn’t worry but teachers are the worst audience in the world.” She was wrong in some regards and right in others. The worst audience I ever had was a group of high school students in a large room who would not stop talking among themselves even with their assistant principal in the room asking them to be quiet. But I digress.

Teachers are a different sort of audience. For one thing they are used to being in charge of a classroom. This means that if they have a question they will ask it. There is just no stopping them. This is one of those things that cuts two ways. In one respect this is wonderful. How many teachers are just begging for their students to ask questions? On the other hand it is pretty easy to get off track. That can be good if you are teaching a semester course but in a 45 minute session it can be deadly. They also have their own ideas about what order things should be presented with so if you tell them “I’ll get to that shortly” they may or may not be willing to wait.

Oh and did I mention that they do a lot of things they would not put up with their students doing? Things like talking to their neighbor to ask questions. If you bore them they will stop paying attention too! Teachers know how to present well too. A lot of university professors, sad to say, are not good presenters (though some are) but the level of presentation skill for teachers tends to be pretty high. So if you are doing a poor job they will notice and they will sometimes notice that more than the topic of your presentation. Or just stop paying attention.

All of that aside I have found that teachers are my favorite audience. Sure I feel challenged but I love the interaction. I learn from the critiques and its pure joy when I’m told I did well. There is never a temptation to “phone it in” when presenting to teachers. You know the audience will be interested especially if they picked your session from among a bunch of interesting concurrent sessions. You know there will be questions which drives you to prepare and learn and be ready. And if you really believe in what you are presenting (and I do) then you have that feeling that just maybe you are going to make things better for teachers, for students and who knows even change the world in a small way.