Why do I attempt to teach on a party bus?
I’ve spent the last forty years in the teaching trenches on every level there is. I’ve taught willing and not-so-willing students, from second grade to high school to junior college, university and adult education night school. And now, I’m attempting to teach retirees who sign up for “historic” tours. What was I thinking?
Over the years, I’ve taught little squirming, wriggling children with the attention span of a gnat. And their parents gave them Dr. Pepper for breakfast. Thank you, parents! What were you thinking? I’ve also taught elderly adults who snooze out the minute I start lecturing. Now, they do need a Dr. Pepper.
I’ve taught a 200-student auditorium class full of college students who spend their time staring into their laps. You know for sure it’s not their genitals they are admiring. The glow from cell phones gives them away. There is a joke going around about a young couple in heaven sitting on their cloud staring at their open hands. St. Peter just shakes his head and reminds them there are no cell phones in heaven.
Why do teachers teach? To educate? To share knowledge? For the excitement of helping others learn? Because, heaven forefend, we love to learn and we assume others do too? How many naïve and kindly youth have I sent out into the world to attempt that onerous chore? Blessings on their little pea-picking souls, it isn’t easy!
A small soap-box moment, if you will forgive me.
Many years ago, we actually valued our teachers. Things have changed. Because many of them. . . no, a vast majority of them are women, they are paid little and valued less. They aren’t rich, and never will be. They often work second jobs to make ends meet. I know I did. They hang on, year after year, hoping the school board, the voting constituents, the politicians will see their need and pay them what they are worth, or at least pay for school supplies. They become cynical and bitter, but they keep hoping their beloved students will learn a little something, just one Eureka moment, just one glimmer of light in a darkening world.
We tend to forget that we entrust our teachers and our schools with our next generation. We expect our teachers to create the future leaders, the future labor force, and admittedly, when we fail, for whatever reason, the future criminals. When we don’t value our teachers, we don’t value our future. And it shows.
And that’s enough. Back to the party van.
I have invested in Quietvox listening devices. Road Scholars use them, and they are wonderful. Packed into a very nice zippered black box, I receive a full set of earphones and receivers for the members of my tours plus two microphones and sending units. I can drive and lecture at the same time.
Usually, I try to have eye-to-eye contact with my audiences. I make my listeners into characters in the story. Someone gets to be a king or queen or one of the conquistadors or George Washington himself. Or I make half the group into Native Americans and the other half into Europeans. It makes it fun for them, and everyone in the group gets a laugh out of it. And it helps people understand that there are always at least two sides to any story.
On this last tour, I had ten passengers, although I prefer the term “guests”. I handed out the earphones, they plugged in their receivers and I strapped on my head-set. I handed out the purple notebooks with 13 pages of power point information on the history of Texas and the Czechs. I had gotten up at 2 am to finish the material so I could print it out and put it into the notebooks for them.
Lecturing with my back to my audience, however, is a little unnerving. I can’t make them into characters. I can’t even make eye contact. All I can do is tell the stories and hope it holds their attention. Usually, it does, when we are going through areas where the history took place.
As we started off, I launched into the Spanish background of Texas. It is a topic that few Texans know. Many feel that Texas history began in 1821 with the arrival of Stephen F. Austin. Never mind that the Spanish had been around for two hundred years before that and the Native Americans for far far longer. We were driving down historic three-hundred year-old Highway 21, the Old Spanish Road, the original Camino Real. Some were even descendants of settlers who had arrived in 1821 and walked on that road. It should have been interesting.
Evidently, it wasn’t. I looked in the rear-view mirror and found that they were chatting happily with each other. I heard peals of laughter from several, and it wasn’t at anything I had said. They wanted to talk to each other. They weren’t there to learn. Chastened, I quit lecturing.
Once we got to the Painted Churches, I handed the microphone head-set to the step-aboard guide. She was able to give her explanations while leading the group on and off the bus, around the grounds, and into and out of the churches. She got to have eye-contact and they all listened.
Perhaps the benefit of using the Quietvox earphones is that those who want to listen can do so. Those who want to chat with each other can do that too. For me, however, it was a revelation. Am I just a taxi service? Or do I get to be a history teacher and educate my audience? That is why I started this business, after all. So, what do I do? Lecture? Not lecture?
They left their purple notebooks in the van.