Even on the days I want to put teaching down, to drop that job just for a day and pick this one up singlemindedly, I can’t. I produced a short for the primary-age division of Mount Hermon last week, a weekly kick-off piece that outlines the camp’s five rules.
Five rules, five sketches.
For perhaps the first time in my short career cutting video, every joke landed, every pocket of tension I sewed into place was tense, every moment I wanted to play big played big. Not a perfect movie by any stretch, but there were no surprises.
I aspire to “no surprises” in my teaching, a goal which doesn’t stand opposite spontaneous, lively instruction, a goal which isn’t inflexible to learner needs. “No surprises” means not tightening the bolts on an elaborate learning moment only to watch it collapse because I overestimated our readiness or overestimated student interest or didn’t incentivizeEr, weird. I thought I was making up a word there. it well enough. Surprise!
For the first time in my career, I planned a linear lesson that didn’t surprise me. For the first time in my career, I produced a short film that didn’t surprise me. Frustratingly, at a time when I’d rather take a mental break from teaching, I find both accomplishments to be thoroughly interwoven.
Both involve a peculiar form of time travel, one in which I not only trek into the future and watch my own lesson/movie unspool, but in which I jump into each student’s/viewer’s head and track her emotional and intellectual state throughout every moment of the lesson/movie. When writing a lesson or a movie, I have to get out there, a day or more into the future, and pay particularly close attention to anyone thinking “I don’t get it” or “I’m bored.”Hollywood has literalized this process substantially with focus group testing. Figures if a joke falls flat in front of a small crowd at a mall in Laughlin, it ain’t gonna do much better when the film opens nationwide across 2000 screens.
Given the inexactitude of both time travel and telepathy I hope no one will jump on my case for admitting I’ve been kinda terrible at both skills for most of both careers. They grow easier, though, as I grow more empathic to the needs and expectations of my audience and as I ponder my flops in both fields. It’s also growing clearer that the harder I work, the more everything, or at least these two things, connects.