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Not Brave Enough

This post is dedicated to my family and friends who have committed themselves to students, lesson plans, instructions, follow up, rigor, and curriculum. Not easy. Any of it. Kudos to you with a deep bow! I recently learned that I am not brave enough to be a teacher.

When I was asked to teach a class for Virginia Tech, I thought what is the big deal. I've been a data geek for 25 years, so teaching for 16 hours will be a piece of cake. Then I started planning the lessons and....whoa...10 slides took 5 minutes to deliver?! This meant an unfathomable number of slides over two days! My extremities went numb as I realized I didn't know enough. I tried to back-pedal but I had already signed on the dotted line. Meep!

Most primary and secondary teachers spend 12-14 hours in the evenings and weekends to plan and mark homework. They need 450 minutes of prep time for every two weeks of teaching. More than in any other profession, teachers are more likely to work at home. Now think of college professors. They are supposed to teach, do research, and participate in service activities. They will tell you that they spend too much time teaching when the expectation is that they will spend more time on research. As for me, I started class prep six weeks beforehand and that was barely enough time.

The median annual compensation for high school teachers was $60k in 2018. Between 2016 and 2026, the US will see a projected growth of 8% growth in the number of teachers. Compare that to a projected increase of 62% for biomedical engineers and 32% for app developers over the same time period. A 2017 survey of 600 professors showed that the median 9-month salary for all ranks and all disciplines is $102K. Professors in stem disciplines out earn their peers in humanities by a significant margin. It's no wonder that teachers, students and parents are making a steady march towards stem and away from other disciplines.

The stats below from a Seattle Times article show the shifting trends in enrollment. As this article points out - have you wondered how colleges are going to sustain high-cost stem disciplines when they don't charge a differential tuition? And if the lower cost programs continue to "die", the challenge of sustaining the higher cost programs will take on urgency. All this while student debt is stymieing recipients and institutions alike. Tarun just read an article about how students in prestigious schools are having to go hungry under the burden of loans. How is any of this acceptable?!

The bottom line is that students ought to and are demanding more attention, more relevance, more precision, and more creativity. For this reason, I had to take my teaching assignment seriously. Besides, I was in the firing line with no desire to perish. My colleague and I ended up delivering a large number of slides, hands-on work, homework assignments, and relevant literature to support our approach, techniques, technologies, and frameworks. This was an incredible challenge, an order of magnitude harder than what we do as consultants. Being a teacher required equal parts knowledge, structure, evangelism, emotional wherewithal, physical stamina, and humor. It is definitely not for this faint hearted soul.

I end the day with immense gratitude to all my teachers, especially my husband who has taught so many people we meet near where we live. These teachers have shaped who we are, they inspire us, and they will continue to teach popular and unpopular subjects because the world around us is replete with vexing problems that defy simple answers and demand creative solutions based in the sciences and humanities.

Do yourself a favor...hug your favorite teacher!

[Stats in this post are from: Bureau of Labor Statistics,, US Dept. of Education, and Seattle Times.]

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