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Essays and Thoughts

In Appreciation of the Overlooked Majority – Those Who Teach Adults

Nic Lyons

May 8, 2019

When we’re thinking of teachers, the image that first comes to mind isn’t usually the person standing before some of the millions of adult lifelong-learners, but it should be. Two times as many people take classes outside public schools, universities, and colleges combined. It takes a lot of teachers to deliver education to such a massive number of people! Yet the teachers of these classes are often the overlooked majority of educators, even during teacher appreciation week. But not by us!

These are the teachers who spend nights and weekends with their students because teaching adults requires a unique approach and a flexible schedule. Typically these teachers have a day job as well. They teach because they love the work, not because it’s convenient, glamorous, or incredibly profitable.

Take Ian Stewart, by day business owner of  New Netherland Timber Framing and Preservation in Ghent, New York and by night a new community education instructor. For the past several weeks, Ian has spent Tuesday nights and a handful of Saturday mornings teaching a group of adult students the basics of Preservation Carpentry, a non-credit course he created, offered by the Hudson Valley Community College through its workforce development program. It’s his first time teaching a class like this, and he speaks in grateful tones about the opportunity to share his skills and knowledge.

“I was lucky enough to have people teach me how to use my tools who were passionate and inquisitive and sent me down different rabbit holes. I felt that it was my job to pass that on,” said Ian. “It’s a reward in itself just passing on the information. Each of my eleven students comes from a different place. My class makeup is diverse; these are all people who have their own careers. About a third are actual carpenters who want to get into preservation carpentry, a third are people who own an old house, and a third are people who exist on the planning and policy side of preservation who wanted a bit more brick and mortar view of the preservation movement.”

Ian was surprised by his students’ dedication to attending his class and the kinds of questions his students brought with them. “They come with questions about urban housing, and Notre Dame, and things outside of the classroom. We’re talking about carpentry, but now these students are already looking far beyond their own houses.”

Ian’s students are in excellent company – more than 3.5 million students take career, and technical education classes every year¹ and 3 million more would like to be.²

Of course, Ian would love to see some preservation carpenters come from his efforts, but he’s just as delighted by the filmmaker who’s caught an interest in condemned historic properties and development, and the folks who have been bringing doors and windows to class to repair for themselves. Tonight is the final night of his spring class, and he’s already designing Preservation Carpentry II.

Ian has no school ID to show for the educator discount at the bookstore or to get a free burrito, pizza, or chicken sandwich this week. He knows he’ll drive an hour to class and an hour back and he’ll get up in the morning and work. If it’s raining, he’ll work on estimates, contracts, and the book he’s writing on historic Dutch architecture. If it’s sunny, he’ll be outside working on a historic timber-framed barn, just a few days from raising. This is a pretty typical schedule for a nontraditional educator: work, teach, and work again.

While it’s a lot of work, Ian considers himself lucky to have spent time with his students. “The more I invest in teaching, the more I see it as a tool for good outside of the classroom in ways I would never have thought of a couple of months ago.”

Here at CourseStorm, we also see teaching as a tool for good and those who teach deserve to be recognized.

If you are lucky enough to know an adult educator, thank them. And while you’re at it, maybe pick them up that burrito, pizza, or chicken sandwich. They’ve earned it.

To the teachers of the more than 3,634,000 adults taking classes – we salute you. We see you. We thank you.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week.

  1. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, Division of Academic and Technical Education.
  2. Coalition on Adult Basic Education.
Nic Lyons

Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.

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