From Teacher to Youtuber: 8 Questions with Rob Tarrou
8 QUESTIONS is a series of interviews with teachers who have effectively transitioned their classroom skills into new and exciting careers in the field of education. We at Teach.com believe that teaching is a rigorous and diverse classroom in and of itself; the skills learned “in the trenches” can translate into an exciting portfolio of professional options. From education tech to consulting, the only “X factor” is where you want to go — our interviews hope to shine a light on the steps it takes to get there.
1. What’s your name, location and current profession?
My name is Robert Tarrou. I live in St. Petersburg Florida. I have been teaching math at St. Petersburg Senior High School since 1996. I am also the creator of Tarrou’s Chalk Talk at YouTube.com/ProfRobBob.
2. Where did you earn your teaching certification and where did you go to school?
I went to high school at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg. My math and computer programming teacher inspired me to become a teacher myself. I earned my BS degree in Math Education at USF in Tampa and completed the SCATT Honors program within the College of Education.
3. How long were you a teacher for?
I currently teach math at St. Petersburg High School. I started my career there and plan on finishing my 30 year career at SPHS. I have been a high school math teacher for the past 20 years.
4. What was the most rewarding part of being a classroom teacher? What about classroom teaching did you find most challenging?
It sounds cliche, but the students are the most rewarding part of being a classroom teacher. We go into teaching to help kids, or our peers depending on your position, achieve their goals in education and life. Of course students can also be the most frustrating part of our job! The lower achieving kids can cause you the most grey hair, but when the light bulb turns on and you see that aha moment, it is very rewarding. Therefore, I enjoy teaching both ends of the academic spectrum. I have taught everything from remedial algebra all the way up to AP Calculus and AP Statistics. When you look back and reflect on the school year, and all the years you have taught, seeing how much your students have grown and eventually achieve in life, makes you realize all the effort and long hours are worth it. I don’t go on Facebook much but some students friend me after they graduate. I get to share a little bit in their achievements, struggles, marriages, kids, new careers, etc. I recently found out that a friend’s new doctor was my student not too long ago. How cool is that!
The most challenging part of being a classroom teacher currently is the pressure coming down from the government and administration. The amount of time that is required to document that you are “doing your job” keeps you away from doing your job of actually “teaching”. All of the standardized testing that our kids must go through also takes the students out of the classroom. It puts a huge strain on the students, counselors, teachers, and administration at the school level as well. Our counselors seem to be spending more time as test administers now, which leaves less time to actually counsel. Starting next week our school’s testing calendar is booked solid for over 60 days for one test or another. It can also feel like all the pressure is put on the teacher to make the kids pass.
There seems to be less and less emphasis on the student’s responsibility for their own success, and it sometimes feels like there is less parental involvement and support. I could keep going on the negatives, but again, you just have to remind yourself to focus on the kids. At this point there is no other job I would rather have. One of my favorite quotes to share is, “choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in you life!”
5. Why did you decide to transition from classroom teaching to your current profession?
I did not transition from being a teacher, I just decided to start making math video lessons to post on YouTube. I had a student tell me at the end of the 2011 school year that he was using the internet to get help with his homework. At the time I was staying after school four days a week offering tutoring, I was confused. His schedule at the time prevented him from coming in for tutoring right after school. That planted the seed, then the next school year I had a student that was going to miss a lot of school for health reasons and asked if I could somehow record my lessons… so I tried making my first YouTube video lesson. The rest was history. After I started, my students would not let me stop and my wonderful wife gave me her complete support, which I need, because between teaching full time and YouTube I was working between 60 and 75 hours a week.
In 20 years of teaching I may have taught 3,000 kids. In 4.5 years my YouTube channel has over 100,000 subscribers in almost 200 countries, gets over 500,000 views a month and has over 12,000,000 total views. How could I not be excited about that?!
6. What is the best part of your work now?
I love teaching. I like math, but I love teaching. For 16 years I was limited by the four walls of my classroom. I was told what to teach and to whom. I am now relearning and preparing lessons for math topics I have not seen since college and will never get the opportunity to teach at my school. With the power of YouTube I can help anyone that chooses my lessons and likes them enough to keep watching them. When I plan my lessons for YouTube I am not constrained by a bell schedule. This means I can give thorough notes, try to point out any and all issues that students may struggle with in a lesson, and include lots of examples. Ok, this may make my lessons a bit too long for some but unlike in a classroom they can speed me up, skip ahead, or replay my lesson if needed. Nothing replaces a classroom setting, but I consider my videos a good alternative. I also have interactions through the comments. It’s not as much fun as being in the classroom, but it is still fulfilling. My wife helps by answering about 1,000 comments a month. In 20 years of teaching I may have taught 3,000 kids. In 4.5 years my YouTube channel has over 100,000 subscribers in almost 200 countries, gets over 500,000 views a month and has over 12,000,000 total views. How could I not be excited about that?!
7. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel in your current profession?
My years of teaching have allowed me to develop a teaching style which I am comfortable with and I feel most of my students appreciate. Becoming comfortable in front a group of teenagers also made it easy to be in front of the camera. The major weakness of learning math from a video is that there is very little opportunity to have a question answered. I have tried to answer the questions of my viewers, but as my channel grows this is becoming increasingly difficult and now almost impossible. The biggest challenge for making video lessons, that you would only learn from actually teaching, is anticipating what questions students will have or which concepts they will struggle with so you can address them in your lesson without actually being asked the question.
8. What advice would you offer a current teacher who is looking to make a career change to outside of the classroom?
While there are a lot of negatives to being a classroom teacher, and it is very easy to focus on them, take the time to step back and reflect on your teaching career to date. You may find that there will be aspects of your job you will actually miss. So make sure that if you decide to leave the classroom, your new job will be equally rewarding to you!
Robert Tarrou has been a high school math teacher in St. Petersburg Florida since 1996. He lives with his wife Cheryl and their two dogs, Wally and Theodore. In August of 2011, I created YouTube.com/ProfRobBob and started creating math lessons to help students of any age around the world understand and maybe even fall in love with mathematics.
READ MORE FROM THIS SERIES:
8 Questions with an Elementary School Principal: Alicia Bowman
8 Questions with a Foundation Teaching Fellow: Meenoo Rami
8 Questions with a Lead Learner and Principal: Todd Nesloney
8 Questions with an EdTech Coach: Chris Aviles
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