As I continue to take more classes in the fire service, it becomes more apparent that the level of instruction needs to be improved. Many well intentioned instructors let their teaching abilities fall short of conducting a successful class. Hopefully, I will share some useful observations and tips that will help you teach firefighters more effectively.
I have taken many great classes over the years and some not so great. I would like to focus on what to do and what not to do. The not so great classes were not because the instructor did not know the subject matter. It was because of instructor’s teaching ability left much to be desired. Often this type of instructor knows a great deal about what is being taught. The problem is the instructor has not developed the proper teaching skills and relies too much on his or her own emotions to relate to the students. Many times I have experienced this instructor’s personal baggage in class which is totally unacceptable. May I remind some of you that you should not teach for your own self esteem but rather for the student’s future gain. If you want to tell fire stories that is fine but, get to the point and apply it to the learning objectives. Another thing, I’m so tired of instructors who want to fill a need by proving their male bravado. One of the biggest turnoffs is be on the receiving end of the instructor’s personal insecurities. Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”. You should want to constantly improve your teaching abilities. The best way to earn the student’s respect is to let them know how much you care about them. It’s never about you and yes that is an absolute statement.
Good instruction is in high demand and future instructors need good mentors. Like many students, I’m often taking mental notes on how to improve my teaching abilities. There are some things that you can start doing in your next class. Ultimately, mutual respect is the foundational principal when trying to convey your thoughts to the audience. You won’t be able to persuade the students if they don’t respect you. When teaching, you must to be able to recognize if the student has understood the subject matter and/or your directions. It doesn’t do anybody any good if you proceed through the class and the student is lost. This is especially true if you must collect and measure the student’s test scores and evaluations. Repeating the key points is a good thing. The biggest challenge of any training program comes down to this one question, “How much is the student going to retain 6 months from now?” Online training is great but, a training program needs Hands-On Practical training as its backbone. We live in a world of perishable skills. Enough said for now. The most important aspect of course instructional design is the learning objectives. The students must be tested according to the learning objectives in order to conduct a successful class. The student test data then needs to be put into a spreadsheet to measure student performance. This evaluation process can identify bad questions or the need for better instruction according the learning objectives. One of the biggest mistakes an instructor makes is not realizing that everyone learns differently. You must design your class to accommodate different learning styles. Often instructors will teach to the way they like learn only. This may leave the instructor and student frustrated and neither one truly knows why. Adults learn differently than younger students but, everyone still needs encouragement. Students need positive feedback often to help correct learning difficulties. As an experiment, go into a store, put on a positive attitude, smile a lot and watch what happens. People gravitate toward positive people.
Below, I have given you some helpful pointers. Many of them are common sense but, it is good to be reminded.
What Not To Do
- Don’t embarrass a student so you can make friends with the rest of the class.
- Don’t act like a clown; it will be noted in the student’s mind. You are on a stage.
- Don’t get frustrated. It just frustrates everyone.
- Don’t bring your personal baggage to class. Everyone has baggage.
- Don’t be a nerd. It’s ok to know a lot but, still be relatable.
- Don’t isolate or reject any students.
What to Do
- Respect the student
- Understand the communication process
- Repeat key points.
- It’s all about the terminal learning objectives. The TLOs must be tested and evaluated.
- Realize everyone learns differently
- Speak life into the student and encourage them
These key points will help you deliver a better class. I get upset when I see bad instructors because I know how good the class can be. I also know how discouraging a bad instructor is for the student. Professionalism goes a long way when helping students understand any subject material. If you want to be a better instructor you need to constantly look at ways to improve.