“So, What Do You Do When You’re Not Teaching?”

Catching up on important work!

Answer: I watch Brain Scoop videos all day, obviously.

As a youth educator who runs after-school programs, I sometimes get asked by our teens what I do when I'm not teaching. Or as Ellie, one of our summer TechTeens asked me, "What do you do all day when we're not here?"

It's a legit question. The short answer is that I spend a lot of time on my computer and in meetings… endless meetings.

The longer answer is that running a set of youth-facing programs at a science museum takes a lot of planning, coordination, preparation, and documentation. The relatively small percentage of my time that I spend working directly with young people is the culmination of so much work to get to that point:

  • Coming up with ideas for a youth program (i.e. a team of teen science filmmakers)
  • Pitching the idea internally to different stakeholders (other team members, supervisor, our video production team, other teens)
  • Brainstorming and researching ways to run this program (a summer camp, a semester long program, a set of drop-in sessions)
  • Securing the funding to run the program (writing grant proposals, doing a direct appeal to donors)
  • Managing the logistics of the program (when will it take place, where will you hold it, do you have the technology and staff to run it)
  • Recruiting youth to be in the program (creating flyers, conducting an online outreach campaign, pitching it in person at local schools)
  • Writing the lessons and creating materials and digital assets for the program
  • Preparing a budget and purchasing technology, supplies, materials
  • Recruiting, training and coordinating with other educators, volunteers, interns, or external contractors involved with the program

Once a youth program has started, assuming it lasts over several sessions, there's lots of background work that needs to be done:

  • Modifying or writing new lessons based on youth interests, input and needs
  • Reviewing work done at the last session
  • Preparing materials and digital assets for the next session
  • Preparing internal or external reporting on the program for supervisors, funders, or the public
  • Communicating with parents and youth about upcoming sessions, events, and other opportunities

After a program is completed and the kids have gone home, there's still more work to do:

  • Preparing reports internally and externally for supervisors, funders, the public
  • Creating financial reports on what was spent and how
  • Reviewing and archiving all youth work produced
  • Evaluating the program for educational outcomes, impact and challenges for future work
  • Connecting the youth to future programs and opportunities

That's just a short list of some of the background work involved in running youth programs, in my experience. Keep in mind, this does not include other responsibilities beyond just running a youth program, such as staff meetings, office management, team coordination, and professional networking. And if you are running simultaneous youth programs, then you are often doing all of the work above, but at different stages, depending on if a youth program is coming up, in progress, or concluding.

There are very few educators that I know that get to spend all or most of their time just working with kids. Getting to work with awesome teens and seeing their minds expand as they learn new things, find out new things about themselves, connect with each other, and create awesome stuff is the best part of my job. But there's lots of work needed to get to that point.

Fortunately, I enjoy almost all of that OTHER work —  ideating, lesson planning, coordinating with my colleagues, documenting of the work, reporting out what happened. And the parts I'm not so great at — fundraising, financial modeling, budget tracking — I don't have to much of, thankfully.

But if you are thinking about entering the world of youth programs for a non-profit, community center, museum, maker space, or elsewhere, you should keep the above in mind. Maybe you find that dream job where you only get to do that one thing that you really really love to do. But most of the time, there's lots of other stuff that needs to get done to get to the point where you are doing the best part of your job. I guess that's just life.

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