Lessons learned from teaching at Santa Monica College

For three semesters, I taught web design at Santa Monica College. Yes, that Santa Monica College. The alma mater of James Dean, Monica Lewinsky, Sean Penn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ryan Seacrest, and a long list of other Really Famous People.

If you’re wondering if I had any celebrities in my classes. And the answer would be no. Sorry to say, web design classes just don’t appeal to the stars.

Did I have some star students? YES!!!

I found that, in any of my classes, 10 percent of the students were rock stars. As in, so good I wanted to make them an offer to pretty-please come work for Eat.Sleep.Work. right now!

The other 90 percent? Well, there were the ones who did what they had to do to complete the semester. And nothing more. Or they didn’t do a darn thing, and the result was a cellar-dweller of a grade. Or they simply disappeared.

Which leads to the first lesson that your teacher learned: You’re passionate about your material. To the point where you want to be like Rafe Esquith and teach like your hair is on fire!

And that’s great! This world needs more passionate teachers. Just be prepared for the realities of the classroom. Most of your students won’t be anywhere near as enthusiastic as you are.

The second lesson: Don’t overestimate your students’ abilities.

Web design is one of those fields that requires a lot of keyboard time. There will be days when you’ll feel like you’re glued to the computer.

In the hallowed halls of Santa Monica College, I met students who didn’t know how to type. For them, the QWERTY keyboard was from another planet. But they could send a barrage of text messages with both thumbs flying! Professor Wang’s GD65 Web Design 1 class, meet Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

The third lesson was a really tough one for me to learn, and here it is: Just because you know something doesn’t mean you can teach it.

During my first semester, I was really on fire. (Move over, Rafe Esquith!) I blew through all of my material in just six weeks. And a Santa Monica College semester lasts 18 weeks. Turns out I was TOO fi

Did I mention that I had a classroom full of confused students?

Second semester was my first with a course outline. It slowed me down to the full 18 weeks, and it gave the students a helpful road map for my course.

The fourth lesson may come as a surprise to many students: They’re not the only ones getting grades. Instructors also get evaluated. I was, and I got great feedback.

The best advice related to my delivery. I needed to improve my ar-tic-u-lation so that my students could un-der-stand what I was saying.

In retrospect, lesson five seems blazingly obvious: Teaching is a lot harder than it looks. So hard. In some ways, now that I’ve relocated to Tucson, I’m actually a little relieved to get an early retirement from my short-lived teaching career.