Background knowledge

Before she became an English teacher, RedKudu worked for years in airline sales and as a waitress. She draws on her experience to write about her challenges as a teacher. To start with, the training’s not as good in teaching as it is in sales or waitressing.

What strategies I’ve learned that work in teaching I learned from reading on my own, or from listening to teachers who knew what they were doing. Strategies I learned in training were fuzzy, one-size-fits-all approaches with abstract scope, and how to feel good about being a teacher.

She feels good about teaching, but lousy about high school students without basic skills or knowledge.

Minimum skills tests be damned — we’re talking about kids who don’t know how language influences the decisions they make every day, from politics to credit cards. Students who do not know how to question “information” they’re receiving, who don’t know how to express themselves intelligibly verbally or in writing.

She doesn’t think “it’s as simple as apathy or disinterest,” because she’s been there herself. RedKudu recalls training for a new job in business travel. Other trainees had some experience; she had none.

There was lingo I didn’t know, codes others knew like scripture that I’d never encountered, and, to be honest, I failed miserably.

… I probably spent much more time studying in the evenings than many of my fellow trainees. But all that came to nothing as I was bewildered daily, as my fellow trainees surpassed me and the instruction itself kept up with them.

After awhile, she stopped trying. She was fired.

Many of her students don’t have the background knowledge they need to keep up.

So I wonder, if they knew what they were supposed to know when they get to us, what more might they learn? If we, as teachers, explore the notion of letting go the past and our fear of lost autonomy — in a profession which just might be clinging too tightly to the ideal of individuality for employees over the general welfare/benefit of its consumers — what might we accomplish?

It’s hard to build on your knowledge if you don’t know much.

About Joanne


  1. As a teacher who has worked in other industries, I could not agree more. The things we learn in credential classes are rarely practical. I’m not saying that we should not learn Ed. Theory, but that seems to be ALL we learn. I just finished my CA credential last year and started on Masters classes in Ed. Admin. this year. The Admin classes are already more practical and useful to me as a teacher. What’s up with THAT?

    On the bright side, I’ve never worked in a field where my collegues were so helpful. Other teachers will go out of their way to help you and give you guidance if you ask. This does NOT happen in every industry.