Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Making It Look Easy

At this time of year, at least one set of students enters what is for them a new school building, looks bewildered, and depends upon someone or some ones to help them figure out where things are, and how to get from place to place.

In my particular school district, we’ve just added a new building, so the majority of our grades, kindergarten through 12, are experiencing a new building for the first time. In fact, every student in grades 3 through 12 are experiencing this newness. Every single student in my building is.

So I and my staff colleagues were the people who were helping every single student figure out where every single room was, including (crucially) the bathrooms.

Except that of all the faculty, I was one of perhaps a handful who had actually taught in the building on a regular basis before. Our new building is the old high school building, a relatively crumbly old structure that has, over the years, grown like Topsy – renovations and additions since its initial 1937 “birth” have caused a rash of half-staircases, not-quite-ninety-degree-angle intersections of corridors, and little nooks and crannies where interesting-looking pseudo-alleyways were created by the joining of the existing building and the new (in the 1950s or 1980s) construction.

Only half-jokingly, a number of times this week, I cracked, “you need GPS to find my classroom.”

So, I was among the probably only 1 percent of the people in the building who were capable of being a fully-functioning tour guide.

It made me think of my tourist experience this past summer.

In July, I decided to spend three days as a turista in Washington, DC. A lot of stories came out of that visit, and will arrive in this space in good time. But this week, I thought immediately of the first place I went, on my first day in Washington: the US Capitol.

That, too, is a building that was completed in stages, and can be pretty confusing inside, considering how straightforward it looks on the outside. Senate on that side; House on the other side; Rotunda in the middle; what can go wrong?

About four years ago, the Capitol folks completed construction on a Visitors Center – essentially a better way of bringing tourists into the building than had existed before. I’m sure that post-9/11 security concerns mostly prompted the move; but it also probably allows regular Capitol employees to get to and from their offices without having to negotiate the hordes of tourists – and even at my scheduled tour time, 8:50 AM, there were a lot of people coming to visit.

The Capitol tours start from below ground level and move throughout the building (except for the House and Senate chambers; you have to get a special clearance and escort via your elected representative’s office). They are conducted utilizing two main resources: each 30-person tour group gets its own tour guide, and each person in that group gets a headset attached to a receiver which amplifies the tour guide’s voice as he speaks into his own lapel microphone. That way, the tour guide doesn’t have to shout, and is assured of being audible to everyone. (It means that s/he can’t mutter to her- or himself, too.)

My group’s tour guide turned out to be, in no particular order, (1) humorous, (2) knowledgeable, and (3) quite young. If he was twenty-five, that was as old as he possibly could have been. By the end of the tour, he had proven that he was the best person for that job. By tour’s end, everyone in my tour group knew more fun facts and essential information about the building, its various chambers, its statue and art content, and its seemingly-trivial but meaningful details. After the tour was officially over, he instructed us to give him our headsets on our way back to the main Visitors Center room … and I’m sure that at least one out of every two people made sure to thank him for the tour and compliment him on his work as they did so. I sure did.

He did his job in such a way that I knew he had prepared well. I can only imagine what kind of training one has to go through in order to be a tour guide at The Seat Of American Representative Government. (Recently I had a conversation with a colleague of mine, and he detailed the kind of training you have to go through in order to be a tour guide in Key West, Florida … so on a scale of zero to Key West to Capitol Building, let’s just say I can extrapolate with the best of ’em.)

He also did his job in such a way that I felt like it might be a fun job. Whether it’s been a Shakespearean actor, a tour guide, a teacher, a professional athlete, a police officer, a scientist, or a crane operator … whenever I’ve seen someone do his or her job very very well, I’ve reacted by thinking, “that looks like a job I’d like to do,” or even, “I bet I could do that job.” Even when I’ve had no training in it whatsoever. Whoever was doing that job was making it look easy – s/he had done so much work to prepare for that moment that it didn’t look like s/he was working at it, and in fact, no one watching the performance was thinking about how hard it was. Starred Thought®: “The moment you stop entertaining, they start evaluating.” (Don’t honestly know whether the job of a police officer or a scientist is to entertain; but perhaps you see why that quote made sense to me.)

So this week, one of my jobs was to help a legion of new students in a new building (for them) make sense of their surroundings. Embarrassingly, I realized I couldn’t remember the name of the young gentleman who gave a knockout tour of the US Capitol. But I thought of him anyway, and hoped I was living up to his high standard.


September 1, 2012 - Posted by | education, entertainment, government, humor, Starred Thoughts, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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