Good Gigs: One Woman On Why Teaching High School Is The Most Important Job In The World

Sara Benincasa is a comedian, writer, and radio personality. You’ve probably seen her on The Frisky in one of her crazy hilarious videos. But, once upon a time, she was a high school teacher. Not unlike Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds,” but with far less Coolio.

We talked to Sara about why she decided to go into teaching, what she found out, and what it takes to tackle the toughest, most important job out there. The Frisky: Why did you want to become a teacher?

Sara Benincasa: I wanted to become a teacher because I was at a crossroads. After college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. So teaching seemed like an occupation that would pair well with another interest of mine, which was writing. I also wanted to give back in some way to young weirdos and art freaks who might need an empathetic adult presence in the classroom.

The Frisky: What were you doing before you made this decision?

SB: I was failing out of college and having a lot of fun running around with hippies.

The Frisky: Once you made this decision, what did you do?

SB: I joined AmeriCorps and moved to New Mexico, where I taught creative writing and yoga for a year. My students were fundamentalists and gangsters, artists and queer kids, juvenile delinquents and skate punks. I loved them and I think they loved me.

Later, I got my M.A. in teaching. After attending grad school in New York, I was a student teacher at the Bronx High School of Science.

The Frisky: What’s the main difference between actually teaching and studying to teach?

SB: Studying to teach does not show you how to teach. You must actually teach in order to learn everything except the basics of writing lesson plans. Studying to teach will help you with rules and regulations, the legal aspects of the job, and the procedural stuff. It’ll also give you a good grounding in the materials popular to the subject you choose. But you start actually learning to teach when you do your student teaching placement.

The Frisky: What qualities does it take to be a great teacher?

SB: Good teachers keep going because they feel an undeniable call to educate. You must love teaching to truly excel at it.

The Frisky: What challenges face most young teachers?

SB: It is an incredibly stressful job. You will cry at the end of the day. Sometimes you will cry at the beginning of the day. You are in loco parentis, acting as the parent in place of the actual parent. Some of the children will not have actual parents at home, so you will be their first experience of authority. You will work long hours at home and people will tell you that your job is easy because you have summers off.

The Frisky: How long did you teach? Did you learn anything as a teacher that has helped you in your career as a comedian?

SB: Teaching was absolutely the best preparation for stand-up comedy. You’re essentially onstage all day long in front of an often-hostile crowd. You’ve got to get your message across, keep their attention, and interact with them. Both careers can simultaneously inflate your ego and leave you incredibly humble.