How Teaching is Like a Video Game

September 06, 2022

Julie Luby

Ed.D. in Leadership

An illustration of items associated with video games coming out of a screen, such as a controller, a sword, an question block, a game boy, a shield and a lightning bolt

The job of an educator has gotten harder. At the same time, students need supportive educators now more than ever. How can teachers stay motivated? The same way a lot of teachers make their lessons engaging – gamify it! Because, whether you realize it or not, teaching shares a lot of similarities to video games.

Think about the games you’ve played – whether it’s “Pac-Man” or “Super Mario Brothers” or “Candy Crush.” How do you beat these games or achieve your objective? You pay attention, stay focused on your goals, grab bonus items when you can, avoid hazards and enemies, earn power-ups and overcome obstacles. After all, playing a game might feel easy, but beating one can be quite difficult.

You could compare teaching to the arc of your favorite video game. Each level is like a school year. Just like school years, no two levels are the same, although they have some similarities and things you can count on. Some levels are harder than others and each presents different challenges. Some levels require us to rely on tools we’ve learned or gathered over time. Most of all, each level challenges us to pace ourselves, to monitor the stamina we have so we have enough to get to the end.

Every year in teaching is new. However, every year has a first day, a last day, a day before break, standardized testing, open house, conferences, report cards and so on. There’s a pattern and a rhythm, similar to how every game has core game mechanics. Some years seem harder than others. Some years are extra special for reasons that we can’t always explain.

Just as every school year has challenges, they also net us rewards, just like a video game level. During those challenges, we grow our skills, gather new tools, slay a few dragons and celebrate when we reach the end. The last few school years have defied our expectations, introducing new hazards, bosses and challenges we’ve never faced before. And we not only survived – we overcame. We used old tools in new ways, we taught ourselves new tricks and we dodged disaster. We made it through what was likely the hardest “level” educators have ever experienced.

But like in any good video game, challenges continue to arise. In this post-pandemic world, we are facing escalated student behaviors, stamina and engagement levels that are very different from what they once were. Facing these challenges won’t be easy, but we didn’t become educators because we wanted easy – goodness knows, there are many easier ways to make a living. We became educators because we want to teach. We want to make a difference for our students, reaching them where they are, helping them grow and be their best selves.

In video games and adventure stories, the biggest challenge always comes when you’re close to the big reward. This can also be said about teaching. The students today need you more than ever. And you know what? You’re ready. You’re prepared for what is ahead because you’ve added tools to your repertoire. You’ve handled various tests before and come out stronger. You can do it and when you make it through this next level, you’ll be gratified in ways you can’t begin to imagine. We know you’ll triumph in the end.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Julie Luby
Julie Luby, Ed.D. in Leadership

Julie is an assistant superintendent of schools in a public preK-12 school district in Connecticut. She has been an educator for more than 30 years, having taught a wide range of subjects across almost all of the grades and been a building principal at the elementary, intermediate and high school levels. She recently earned her Ed.D. in Leadership from ACE. Julie's research and experience have cultivated her passionate belief in district coherence around a shared vision that is celebrated and enacted through skilled instructional leadership. She provides coaching to principals and district leaders, and leads coherence work for districts seeking to enhance performance. Julie lives in Newtown, Connecticut with her three children and two dogs.

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