Teaching, especially beginners

In the media, and in conversations with believers of said media, you will learn that anyone can be a teacher, that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” that passive learning from a video is the same as learning from a dynamic teacher. Basically, teaching is not a skill.

I’m here to tell you they’re wrong.

Now, there are some people who will learn from whatever you put in front of them. But we can’t make the exceptions the rule. (And typically, this applies to only one type of learning—the same person rarely can learn both book skills and kinesthetic skills from non-interactive instruction.)

There is value in connection. This is true in all parts of life, not just teaching. Why do you think, in certain situations, we’re trained to see people as “other”? It breaks our connection and makes it much easier for the people in charge to pit us against them.

There is value in being able to ask questions. If you went to college, surely there was a difference between a large lecture and a more intimate class. Or — there’s a reason for office hours (beyond asking for a better grade that you didn’t earn).

There is value simply in body language. A large portion of the feedback I get in classes I teach (to any age) is from body language and facial expressions. Sometimes it’s clear right away that what I just said isn’t making it. Or they’ve checked out and whatever I’m saying isn’t being received.

All that said, teaching beginners is a further specialization.

Every skill has technical language that goes with it. If, as the teacher, you aren’t aware of these words (that you’ve been using fluently for years, maybe decades) and define them ahead of time, your students are going to be lost. (Have you ever had a conversation with a person in a different field who isn’t aware of their field-specific acronyms?)

Human brains (again, any age) don’t absorb everything in one pass. It’s going to take more than one explanation of some of that vocabulary before students get it, and longer than that before they’re also fluent. Different students will remember different details first.

Skills need to be broken down into component parts, and those parts need to be offered in a sequence that makes sense.

And flow of information needs to be regulated. Too much too fast and your students are lost. The skills might seem simple to you, but how many years of practice with the skill do you have? Offering way too much information over and over doesn’t help most students to learn. If you’re in a position of being overwhelmed and the same volume of stuff comes at you repeatedly, does that help you to get a handle on it? If yes, it’s because you pick out one or two things from each wave and incorporate just those. Which is what you, as a good teacher, need to do for your students.

This is why people who teach preschool and kindergarten have a harder job than people who teach high school. Sure, we all know the content for preschool and kindergarten (probably?), but we definitely can’t all teach it.

Respect good teaching (whether it’s in a school, in a training, in a workshop—context is irrelevant). Remember that teaching is a skill, it’s something you get better at over time with intentional practice, and no, not anyone can do it equally well.

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