Six-year-olds hold a special kind of terror and wonder for me. I spent two years in one of the most impoverished areas of the United States with 26 first-graders snug in their mismatched desks. A dusty classroom with broken blinds was my home well beyond the eight-hour school day; on the weekends, the red pen—or whatever color I chose for grading—was my social life.
I spent evenings crafting lesson plans and days watching in amazement as my students became readers, writers, problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. I spent recess monitoring games of pretty pony princesses and monsters. I was not only teaching; I was instilling life lessons, doling out consequences, stepping in between the jealousy of best friends, or handing out high-fives and hugs at the end of the day.
As a kid, the idea of teaching seems fun and easy; but when your own classroom becomes a child’s world, you realize that there’s a lot more to the job. When I stepped into the world of public relations, I was surprised to find that my life as a teacher and my life in the office were not so different.
1) Personal connections are essential
Whether you’re speaking to five-year olds whose main priority is Spongebob Squarepants or pitching a journalist who focuses on Civil War history, it’s important to know more about your audience than just their name and your own agenda. Finding out what articles a journalist has written recently is the same as researching what happened on the latest episode of Shake It Up on Disney. It lets the person you are speaking to know that you put time and effort into your outreach. In the children’s classic Horton Hears a Who, Dr. Suess said, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Don’t forget—reporters are people, too. Personalize it.
2) Be worth listening to
Kids can tell if you’re not enthused about a lesson. Reporters can tell if you’re parroting an already-written pitch or reading from a script. When you’re on the phone with a journalist, actually have a conversation with them. Keep your tone upbeat and talk about your content with authority. In a classroom, a lesson that worked the previous year may not be effective for your next class—in fact, they may even come right out and tell you it’s boring. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joe Queenan wrote about absolutely screwing up in front of an audience. One speech may not work for every speech you give. In PR, you have adapt, change your tune for whoever you are speaking to and learn to read your audience. You have to be someone they want to talk to, even if they don’t know it yet.
3) Your time is not necessarily your own
As a teacher, I knew I had to teach reading from 7:45 to 10:30 a.m. each day. I knew that my math lesson should take no longer than 20 minutes. I could schedule out my day in ten minute increments—including lunch. But every day, something would happen to throw off my schedule. Kid got a cut on the playground; the class does not understand finding the missing number; another student refuses to do work and I have to take teaching time to correct his behavior. I keep a to-do list at my desk now, but I have learned that in both positions, you have to be flexible. Some days will go over perfectly and your tasks will be complete. Most days, however, that isn’t the case—a client will need something right away or a project you were working on is pushed back until the next month. Being flexible, taking a deep breath, and adjusting can help you stay sane.
4) Your colleagues can also be your friends
In every school, especially in your first year of teaching, you will need someone to reach out to at the end of the day to dissect every decision you made or vent about that one student who pushes your buttons. They will bring you potato chips and share their wisdom and you will call them at 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, panicking about the lesson the next morning. In my office now, I am lucky enough to have colleagues I can rely on, people to call when I need a brainstorming session or I’m creatively tapped out. In front of a classroom, my colleagues were the people who helped me blunder through mistakes and learn from them for the next day, who listened to my ideas, fears, and woes and gave me feedback. I’m thankful to find the same is true as I start my career at Stanton Communications.