How Teaching Made Me a Better PR Professional
By Lisa Lark, Director
My resume reads differently than many communications professionals. After five years of planning events and developing customer communications in the automotive industry, I went back to school and became a high school teacher.
It was the best thing I have ever done for my career as a communicator.
For more than nine years, I honed my communications chops in front of some of the toughest audiences around: teenagers. Have you ever tried to tell one teenager to do something they don’t want to do? Now extrapolate that out to 30 teenagers on a warm May afternoon and imagine it’s your job to make them understand how to use commas in a series.
All those hours working closely with my students expanded my communication skills in ways I could not have imagined. It wasn’t until I left the teaching profession that I realized just how much I had learned about communications.
Walk into a classroom without a well-thought-out, clear, cohesive message…I dare you. Planning my lessons required me to not only think about what I needed to say but how I needed to say it and the right way to convey it in order to hold the attention of my students and generate interest. I frequently taught 2-4 different subjects each day and pulling together the 50-minute classes required audience research, writing, and interpersonal skills—all of which I now use every day at Lambert.
No two classes were ever the same. Even when I was teaching the same lesson five times in one day, it was different every time. Each group of students had different needs, and my lessons had to be adaptable to meet those needs. Teaching was a lesson in understanding my audience and changing my message and tactics on the fly. I draw on these skills frequently and use them to help me hit the right notes in presentations and calls.
This one might be surprising but bear with me. Good teachers are good listeners, all of them. Listening allows you to hear what is said and make note of what isn’t said. When my students answered questions, they were revealing more than just whether they’d done the homework. Actively listening would help me understand them, which would, in turn, allowed me to create better lessons for them. The same principle applies to my client work: listening to the client and understanding the big picture makes a difference in my understanding of what they want and need and helps me provide better counsel.
Teaching was hard, exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming and challenging work. It was also astonishingly moving and wonderful. I frequently told my kids I learned as much from them as they did from me, and that was completely true. I left the classroom each day knowing more about myself, about my community, and about the world. I’m proud of the work I did in the classroom, and I consider myself lucky to have done it.
I left the teaching profession in 2014, but it’s never far from my heart. Teachers do remarkable work every day, and that’s clearer now than, perhaps, ever before. Regardless of what they’re experiencing in their own lives, teachers show up every day and serve as guides, as support systems, as cheerleaders, as a disciplinarian, and as so much more. This Teacher Appreciation Week I want to thank the teachers who have made a difference in my life—both those who taught me and those I taught beside.