We need an elevator question, not an elevator speech.

I think teaching has an explanation problem. I don’t think this is a new thought by any means, but more than a lot of professions teaching suffers from the Curse of Knowledge. Most everyone teachers meet has done school. Often for 12+ years. This leads people to believe they know what teachers do since they’ve been around them so much.

The other side of this problem that I see is that people often respond to inquiries about what they “do” with a job title. This is especially true in widely known professions (I suspect polysomnographic technologists don’t have this problem). As a side note, I actually try not to ask that question as I prefer “what do you love?” or “what lights your fire these days?” when meeting new people. Way more interesting answers. Try it.

Here is my proposal. We need elevator questions. I don’t think I’m capable of explaining what I do as a classroom teacher in 5 minutes or less in a way that is comprehensible and actually encapsulates the work that goes into herding cats, so I’m not going to go there. What I am trying to figure out is an answer that starts something like this:

Random Person: “And what do you do?”
Me: “I teach. Hey, you’ve done school. Could I get your opinion on this …”
RP: “Huh, I’ve never thought about that. What an interesting/challenging problem!”

where the “…” is an actual classroom scenario that is short, comprehensible to non-educators, and presents a true problem in teaching were multiple options are being weighed. I want to give the general population something to chew over in a way that helps elevate teaching beyond “advanced show-and-tell”. I want everyone to associate teaching with thoughtful and complex and wonderful.

I’m pondering my own “…” and once I work it out I’ll post it. For extra credit reading, I recommend checking out the book The Art of Explanation. If you want a quick overview, check out the author’s 5 minute Ignite! Seattle talk from a few years back.

So what’s your elevator question that will give me a glimpse of the nature of your work?



5 thoughts on “We need an elevator question, not an elevator speech.

  1. Pingback: The Elevator… and Elevating | wwndtd

  2. One of my favorite parts of being in education is that usually just telling people what you did that day makes for a good story. My Aunt who was an AP in Chicago once told me all of these stories at a family gathering and she was just describing her afternoon, but because it was about relatable issues, and involved people that she knew very well and could describe vividly, it ended up being pretty good conversation fodder.

    Perhaps the best question is exactly what you are thinking about at that exact moment because you have it fresh in your head and speak to it with passion?


  3. Hmm, you need something that the person immediately thinks they can help you with, but then you start adding layers of complexity that reflect the art of teaching. For example, “I’m working on teaching my students how to subtract with regrouping.” As evidenced by all of the anti-Common Core posts floating around, the dissenters love to point out the crazy ways people try to teach such a “basic” skill.

    Let them start telling you how they think it should be taught, but then start tossing out some of the challenges either related to the moment of teaching it or issues you have down the road when you’re teaching something else and their understanding falls apart. For example, “Oh, standing at the board modeling the steps of subtraction with regrouping. Clever. But see, I have this one student who is constantly falling out of his seat and distracting the other kids. What do I do with him? I have a hard time standing up at the board while he does that and the other kids have a hard time paying attention.” or “Hmm, I have these three students who are still not able to add 1-digit numbers together. They have a hard time remembering this many steps. What should I do for them?” And on and on.

    I know this is more than a 5-minute conversation, and you may not get someone’s attention for that long, but I think the idea of taking the simple “work” of teaching and fleshing out the complexities and nuances is what non-educators need to hear in order to understand at the very least that it isn’t as simple as it sounds.


  4. I’ve been thinking about this alot. Some ideas:
    “What was the last thing you deliberately set out to learn? What made you want to learn it?”
    “If you visited a classroom, what kinds of things would show you that students were learning?”
    “Some people thing we should do away with grades. What do you think about that?”
    “Have you ever tried to teach a person something? How did you know they were really getting it?”

    Interested to hear what you’ve been thinking about, Ashli. 🙂


  5. Pingback: Today’s chart that has me thinking | Learning to Fold

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s