Thursday, December 11, 2014

Teaching is more than knowing...

At the coffee shop this morning a man was at the table behind me proclaiming how intelligent he was with lines like, "they thought they could tell me how to teach my own child," and "I'm sure I know more than they ever will."

Here's the thing that got under my skin about his arrogance. There's more to teaching something than knowing it. I'd say, and this isn't an exaggeration, that knowing something isn't the primary requirement for teaching something. I don't need a doctorate in mathematics to teach someone how to calculate gross profit or what an item's price is with tax added. Knowledge isn't the most important part of that training at all. Being able to communicate with the student on their level is the most important part. I'd listened to his bunghole for about five minutes when it was obvious he wasn't communicating even to his adult audience on their level. He was bragging, putting on his indignant panties and showing off how smart he was and what a bully he could be with his acquired knowledge. Even the person at the table listening to him wasn't engaged with him in the conversation. He wasn't noticing. He was listening to himself talk. That is not a quality that is needed in a teacher.

I've never been a teacher but I've been a trainer in a work setting for years, decades even, and it's something I'm good at, very good at. The training program I developed at my last job is still being used company wide today. It's good. It works when it's done right by the right person. When done by someone like this person though, it won't work. Most of the process is listening. It's finding out where the student is and how they learn and letting them do it. Learning isn't top-down in spite of how often it's tried in meetings with monster decks of powerpoint tedium. That's a way to convey information, that's not teaching though. Not even close.

Teaching is a skill. Training is a skill. Those who do it well, those who do it for a living, may not have as much specific knowledge as one of the arrogant helicopter parents out there, but what they will have is some training in how to train, how to teach, how to pry open your special snowflake's brain bucket and not just pour the information in there, but make the student ASK them to give them more information, more help, and help them learn more when they're stuck. So, if a teacher is offering you tips on how to teach something, step down off your high horse and listen for just a little bit. It's December and the teacher's interacted with your snowflake for months at this point and probably knows what they're talking about.

Note: Not all teachers are good teachers. I know that. I've had my share of bad ones and they, to be honest, resembled the speaker at the coffee shop more than the resembled the teachers that did a really good job at teaching me something I hadn't known when I got there.
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