Lessons From Teaching: #1 Being Humane

The first time I facilitated a learning course was at 21. The only reason I went was that my father worked at STC Training and he told me to apply as well. I wasn’t looking forward to teaching and as I had acted in front of a hundred people, I thought that this would be a walk in the park. I was wrong.


Middlesex University
STC Training was where Middlesex University is today. The first class of teaching was 1st floor, 2nd class bottom right.

Teaching Is About People First


The class of eight people came in for a course on Microsoft Word. As they entered, my heart started to pound heavily, and my legs felt weak. Today I still feel anxious when starting a new class but once the roles are set, I calm down. This wasn’t so for my first class.


Most of the class were as young or even younger than I was. Two others were at least twice my age. I still remember the look two of them gave upon seeing me for the first time. I felt pierced right through my gut. At that time, I thought that knowing the material and communicating it is what teaching is all about. On that first course, I realised that teaching has more to do with the people than anything else.


Make The Course About Them, Not You


I was advised by my father to tell them my accolades and show my credentials when introducing myself. I guess the idea was to gain credibility. Yet when I did this, I felt that this created a sense of separation from me and the students. Through the years I found that the less talk I do about me and the more I focus on connecting with them, the better it is for them and myself.


By the second session, I felt things were not going that well. The two elder students started building an attitude. Apart from that, I was finding it hard to grasp the reality that people could barely know anything about Microsoft Word. Having used a computer since the age of 4 my reality was different.


Humility Saves Many Mistakes


God’s found a way to keep me humble as in the material there was subject, I had never heard of: Mail Merge. I was scared since I could see how I could I teach something I don’t know. I tried the functionality out and in a couple of minutes, I learnt it. Here I learnt that being a tutor does not mean I know everything but that I have the mindset to figure things out.


By the third session, I was having trouble managing one student. I couldn’t cope with what I felt as the complaining, subtly mocking me, trying to prove me wrong and blaming me for what I interpreted as her failure to learn. I remember going home on that third session crying and fearing meeting this student.


Students Are People


In hindsight, I realised that she might have been as scared or as angry as I was. Here is a woman, almost in her 50s, being taught a guy half her age on how to type on a bloody computer. Even worse it seems that Maltese people have this idea that not knowing is something to be ashamed of.


By the fourth session, things came at a climax. She was getting angry at me and I was almost losing my cool. In the break, I remember myself thinking ‘How can someone want to show off so much whilst still not knowing anything? Why are people so full of themselves?’ Ironically this is something I could say about myself, not the student.


Understand What Makes A Student Tick


Without knowing I was tapping into the motivation of the student. For this student, not knowing meant that her esteem was in question. She would rather blame the teacher then lose her esteem. So, I crafted a plan. I will try and replenished her esteem and then maybe she could focus on her work rather than on me. Half acting for the student’s growth and half acting out of preservation of my own esteem, I tried it out.


It didn’t go as I planned. To my eyes, she was making more mistakes than anything good. When she got to do around 40% of what the task required, I said to her ‘See you are getting good at this, well done.’ She smiled and already started boasting with her colleague about how better she is, even though her colleague did her work twice as better.


Giving Esteem Is The Best Steroid For Performance


Things changed and by the end of the course she got a B. For me this was a rapid introduction into the world of feelings. I found that holding a person in high esteem has a profound effect on their performance. I still find that measuring performance is important, but it should be separate to how a tutor feels for a student. People are meant to be loved unconditionally and this is where the tutor can teach something deeper during class.


What I didn’t realise was how important what I was doing was. When the last class was over the two elder students came over and each gave me a card and a small gift. I still feel tears when I remember it. I felt really appreciated and I could see that the course meant something for them.


The reason I am writing this is that we often forget that students are people with their feelings, thoughts and stories. When people come to our classes they come with their baggage and we meet them without their own baggage. In this meeting, the teacher has the opportunity to not only transfer knowledge and skills but to do something deeper. Through the teacher’s attitude and love for the student, the teacher can teach a person to get in touch with their humanity. After all, that is what we are longing to find.

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