Me at the FNL News Desk, 1995
I came to education by way of a career as a writer-producer. That career began at 19 when in college I became a staffer for a Saturday Night Live-styled variety show we produced every month or so in between term papers.
It was there that I learned to write; that I learned to write comedy; that I learned to value the arts and humanities, and to set the trajectory moving forward for a career path that evolves to this day.
Having a returning (and growing) audience to serve, there was drive, motivation, purpose, in working extremely hard to generate the best content that we could. None of it would’ve ever landed me a gig at Studio 8H, but it taught me an immense amount about collaboration and leadership. What was a team of three people would swell to a crew of over 100 as a show date approached. What was a meager budget became the grounds necessitating learning how to sell, cast vision, and negotiate. What was a desire to produce scripts we’d written for both stage and screen became the impetus for learning technical craft of video production and editing along with the stagecraft of lighting, sound, and set design.
In addition to the business of show, the project management skills we had to figure out were well in play for years after I left college and was building a list of clients to tend to as a multimedia producer. The budgets were real, the companies were serious, and the CEOs, VPs, and other company leaders I worked with were trusting of our abilities to come through with a message that served their objectives.
There were so many moments during the production of a national sales meeting or the shooting of a video where I was coaxing and coaching these corporate talents when I’d think back to a moment with a professor who’d agreed to indulge a group of undergrads with a camera and a storyboard. Or, when a client chose “SNL” as their annual theme and my eyebrows raised as I thought about what it would take to pull off the scale and scope of that for a Fortune 500 company. I’d think about our paltry shoestring budget in college and now all the commas and zeroes that were attached to this one.
Years later, when it was time to move on, both a 12-month non-compete I’d signed with my employer, and a restlessness to do work that was more significant, turned my head back to education. I had a chance occurrence with the field a few years prior, raising money for an education coalition through a video I produced, and the notion stuck. It just took some time to come to pass.
The moment I thought about becoming an English teacher, things fell into place with alarming speed. Struggles I had professionally were now doors swinging wide open. I had facility with the students and the day to day. And then I realized I could start applying my technical skill and showmanship to teaching. I built a Film Literature class and occasionally paired it with Creative Writing. I spoke publicly everyday, leading lessons, and trying to reach a reluctant group of disenchanted urban teenagers. I started showing our school leaders ways to make administration more efficient. And above all else, I had a renewed sense of purpose in a profession that sort of chose me.
Since then, in short time I’ve earned and broken in a teaching license. I’ve continued to a master’s of education from Indiana University. I’ve been asked to sit in on education policy and non-profit boards and advisory panels. I’ve consulted for a slew of ed tech CEOs and product designers. I’ve presented at conferences and written blog posts, letters to editors, and countless lessons, professional development sessions, policy documents, and hopefully sooner than later, books on teaching and technology.
The entire time I’ve leaned on the rudiments of skills and thinking processes that came about with that repeated exercise.
It made me a writer, a leader, and eventually, a humanist, and an educator. Our satire was some pretty weak tea, but it’s what I cut my teeth upon and what motivates me to this day.
Steve Martin smartly recounted his story of his first performance on Carson, when following his set, Johnny waved Steve over to have a seat. “You’ll use everything you ever knew,” he leaned in and told Steve as the camera pulled out for a commercial break. It’s proven true for me as well.