Who me? A teacher?
From one introvert to another
When visiting family this Christmas, my sister pulled me aside to have a talk about teaching. She is a massage therapist and had taken a professional development class. Nothing unusual about that. But the doctor who gave the class asked her to begin teaching the intro level classes. She agreed because she enjoyed the subject matter--but only with a horrible sense of dread. She shared with me the overwhelming anxiety she experiences whenever she has to speak to a group any larger than 3 people. She said she had talked to friends who were teachers about how they got started, how to do it, but they only waxed poetical about their passion. They were people who had always wanted to be teachers, who wanted to be "the one who knows" and stand in front of a class. That is not my sister--and it was not me.
She knew that, of course. I prefer not to draw attention to myself and feel no need to be heard in most social settings. When I returned to school in my early 30s, I had difficulty with assignments that required standing up in front of class, even though I was comfortable contributing to discussions from my seat.
My introduction to being a teacher, however, wasn't very helpful to my sister because it was trial by fire. I served as an aide in an ESL class in an adult education program one day and the next day the teacher had to bow out for personal reasons. That left me as the only person who had expressed an interest. Just follow what's in the book, I was told. And so I did. I owe a lot to my comfort in front of a classroom to those students who were so welcoming and forgiving of any gaffes I made.
Adult students' generosity toward teachers, their willingness to shrug off little mistakes or moments of disorganization and take things in humorous stride, is a gift and usually a given in any group of adults truly interested in the content the teacher is delivering. No one wants to be stuck in a seminar taught by someone who appears to have done no planning, has a poor grasp of the material, or has no passion for the subject matter. Luckily this is a rare occurrence and I was sure my sister would deliver, especially since the doctor himself had expressed confidence in her grasp of the material.
However, other people's confidence and the hope of a generous audience was not enough to put her at ease. So I shared some ways to conduct classes so that the teacher is not standing up in the "one who knows" position.
1. When bringing together a group of adults, many of them will have some knowledge of the subject at hand. As a way of getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of participants, start off with everyone sharing their knowledge about or experiences with the topic. This can be enormously helpful to a teacher in terms of tailoring the teaching to the group. If everyone is strong on anatomy, that part will be a breeze and more time can be spent on philosophy or technique. Giving everyone a chance to speak also humanizes the whole experience. In truth, as adults, we are a group coming together to learn, even if one person is designated teacher and supposedly knows things the others don't.
2. There's nothing wrong with admitting you're not "the one who knows." Say, "I'm not sure about the answer to that, but give me your email address after class and I'll find you some information on it." You can also anticipate questions you may not be able to answer and provide a list of additional resources (all adults, right, and should be able to look up things they're interested in). In my sister's situation, she can encourage students to take the next class with the doctor himself. And there's nothing wrong with turning to the group assembled and asking if anyone present has some experience with the topic in question that they could share.
3. If being in front of the group is uncomfortable, come up with activities involving the subject matter that require that you rotate around the room and the students take their eyes off of you. I suspect this is the sole reason some presenters use Powerpoint slides. Ask different people to read some of the material aloud to save your voice (especially if this is a several hour affair). Think of students as participants. They will probably welcome changes in the usual sit-and-listen routine.
4. While someone new to teaching might not be comfortable with the idea of being in charge, being in charge means you can design the course, the seating arrangement in some cases, the availability of water, breaks, whether you stand or sit, the use of technology, etc, to make you most comfortable. It takes practice to understand how to make the most of this power. So . . .
5. Find some willing victims and practice teaching to them, perhaps an abbreviated form of the subject matter. This can be friends but it's better if they're interested strangers. If it's medical in nature, ask if nurses at a nearby facility would be willing to hear you speak on the subject. Mix it with pleasure by inviting people to gather at a restaurant. If humor helps, make some of these exercises in standing up in front of others strictly humorous. There's no reason to stick to the subject matter you will eventually be teaching. The idea is to get comfortable being up front, presenting information to people, and directing them to do things.
Such is the extent of my suggestions on transforming from a terrified introvert to a comfortable speaker or teacher. I know there are plenty of teachers on hubpages. I hope they share their wisdom as well.