The toughest assignment I have had of late

Most folks think I have it pretty easy as an academic. And they’re right: tenured professors at a big university in a nice Midwest college town ain’t exactly breaking rocks for a living. But occasionally I am stretched a bit.


Yesterday was one of those days. An Iowa school district asked me to come talk to its high school students about the laptops they’ll be getting next year for its 1:1 initiative. Although my work primarily is with adults, I was fairly nonplussed at the time of the invite. After all, I taught 8th grade history to students from housing projects and have had several recent occasions to work with high school students. What was there to worry about?

Thursday evening, however, I got the full skinny about what my visit would be like. 300 students jammed into an auditorium. No opportunity for group work. No real opportunity for hands-on work. And, of course, no chance that they could access any materials on the Internet. Just me on stage with my laptop and a projector and speakers. And 300 of them, arms crossed, minds skeptical, waiting to see if I was worthy of their attention.

On the last day of school. For the last 90 minutes of the day.

How’s that for a recipe for success?!

The students were great. I apparently did well enough that they didn’t throw stuff at me or mock me mercilessly. And then they were off to the buses and whatever summer plans they had…

The whole thing reminded me a bit of a quote I once read from 1998 National Teacher of the Year and Disney American Teacher Award recipient Philip Bigler:

I have personally seen $400 per hour K Street Lawyers, who are comfortable debating the most intricate and obscure point of law before their peers, quiver in fear in front of a group of 16-year-old students.

Have YOU been stretched lately?

Photo credit: Faces of fear

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