Things I'll Never Understand: Confidence, and Lack Thereof

This past weekend, I participated in the second of three tutoring sessions in NYC for the REACH program.  REACH offers to pay participating students some good money in return for particular scores on a variety of AP exams.  As part of the program, students must attend three crash review sessions on three Saturday’s in the months leading up to the exam.  Always looking for a few spare bucks to keep myself and my partially-employed wife in the style to which we are accustomed, and given that I can talk about AP Biology for hours with almost no effort, it’s a good fit for me.

There are two, three-hour sessions each day.  Halfway through the second one, I noticed that one of the “students” in the class was explaining the process of chi-square analysis to another student with such cogency, that she had to be another teacher, somewhat in disguise, sitting in my lecture.  A notion that I quickly verified.

Following the second lecture, I asked her why she was not lecturing in these sessions.  I fell into the gig by happy accident, and I couldn’t really understand why anyone who was capable of explaining something as esoteric as chi-square testing would be sitting in the lectures without getting paid for being there.  Here is where the meat of this anecdote comes in:  She told me that she wasn’t comfortable lecturing in these sessions, as she felt a little green.  How long had she been teaching?  10 years, but only AP Biology for the past 4.

To be clear, this is my seventh year teaching in general, and year 5 teaching AP Biology.  I would have been comfy doing the REACH lecture gig after year 1.

This story is exemplary of something that I see all over the place in education; the remarkable difference in confidence exhibited by different educators with varying levels of experience.  Some folks never feel particularly comfortable talking about their discipline’s, even after 10 years in the job.  Others of us are only too happy to hold forth on things as soon as we have wrapped our head around them once or twice.  

For the life of me, I don’t know where this difference in confidence comes from.  It certainly doesn’t come from ability.  The woman in my lecture gave a more measured, calm, and clear chi-square explanation than anything I offered during my raucous and rapid traipse through the entirety of Mendelian genetics in the 1.5 hours I had for it.  She was a seasoned city teacher, and actually had several of her students in the room, listening to me prattle on.  She deserved to be up in front of those students just as much, if not more, than I did.  

I suppose these differences come from the same place that they always do:  personality and its particular quirks.  I happen to believe pretty deeply that I am good at what I do professionally, and am only too happy to demonstrate that conviction far and wide.  Maybe this woman’s history and experience has been different from mine.  Perhaps she is just a slightly timid teacher…

I don’t pretend to have the answer.  But I do know that if I’m asked for recommendations for people to teach in the program next year, I’ll keep her in mind.