One of the questions I get on a regular basis from other instructors is – what do I do to make sure my classes are a success. There is no way to guarantee a class will be a success and I will be the first to tell you, I have had my share of embarrassing moments. However, there are things you can do to help put the odds in your favor, below are my top five.
5.      Listen to your audience. The body language of your audience will tell you if it is time to take a break or if they understand what you are teaching. People yawning or fidgeting in their seats indicates that it is a good time to take a few minutes and get them walking around. It really doesn’t matter whether your presentation calls for a break or not, if your audience is not tuned into your presentation – the information will be lost. If your class is delivered through lecture; I recommend planning a break and/or exercise every 45 minutes. Few people can sit still and maintain a high level of focus for longer stretches of time.
If you need to take a break at an unscheduled time, document it, and make adjustments to your presentation for future use. Many highly rated programs have experienced numerous edits before getting to the point of excellence.
4.      Take the time to find out who is in your audience. This is easy if you are teaching to your own department, but as you develop as an instructor you may be asked to teach for other departments. Take the time to ask who is attending the class and what level of subject knowledge they have. Your presentation on fire behavior is going to be significantly different if the room is filled with rookies as opposed to 10+ year veterans.
It will have a negative effect on your class if the students do not understand what you are presenting or feel that you are talking down to them. Remember, you are there to teach, not to preach.
3.      Write a syllabus for your class. Too often instructors do not take the time to write a syllabus. I often hear “I know what I am going to teach, why do I need to write a syllabus?” Writing a syllabus is important, not only for documentation purposes but also for developing the course. The process of writing a syllabus forces you to think about the information you are going to cover as well as the order you are going to cover it. It also helps you to stay within the scope of what you want to cover.
It is common for instructors who are not teaching from a syllabus to stray from the topic at hand. This often results in a class that lacks focus, direction, and leaves students feeling incomplete.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are scheduled to teach a class on vehicle stabilization and one of the student’s asks about 3rd door conversions. It is natural for instructors to want to answer a student’s question. The problem is answering a question that is – for the most part, unrelated to the topic at hand leads to wasted time. The best way to handle a question like this is to avoid the trap of discussing or debating the “best” technique for 3rd door conversions and redirect the question. For example, you could reply by saying “this is how I would stabilize this vehicle so it does not interfere with performing the 3rd door technique.”
Feel free to discuss the best technique(s) for performing a 3rd door conversion after the class, but don’t reduce the time you have for teaching stabilization by straying off topic. You may make one student happy, but chances are the others will be annoyed.
2.      Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – did I mention, take the time to prepare! Anyone can make a mistake and forget something but that does not take away from the fact that not being prepared has a negative effect on how your class will be perceived. One of the key parts of a syllabus is identifying the items you will need to deliver the class. This provides you with a check list. If you use a syllabus, you are less likely to forget key items for delivering your class. Take the time to review the syllabus and the checklist of items you will need. Then make sure you have those items.
For example, if the syllabus says you will need a thermal imaging camera, make sure that the camera is where it is supposed to be and working. Familiarize yourself on how to operate it. During or 5 minutes prior to the class is not the time to do this. Can you imagine showing up to teach a class on the TIC and find out it was sent in for repair? This would be embarrassing to say the least.
1.      Take the time to rehearse your delivery. Trying to wing a class is one of the worst things an instructor can do, even if you have taught the class before, take the time to walk through your delivery. I am often asked how I rehearse for a class. I tell them I rehearse just like an actor rehearses their lines for a movie or a play. If I am delivering a PowerPoint presentation I go through each slide and practice what I am going to say – OUT LOUD. I know some of you are laughing, but rehearsing out loud is the most effective method for rehearsing your presentation. Go through each slide, this will make you more familiar with the clicker, the software, computer, and the order of the slides. Doing one without the other is like playing baseball without a glove. You can do it, but it’s not as effective.
I am sure many of you are thinking – isn’t this all common sense? My response – yes it is. The problem is there are very few instructors that take the time to follow all of the steps in the process when preparing for a class. The chances for a poor performance increase with each step that is skipped.
There are many variables that play a part in determining whether an instructor or a class is considered good or great and many are out of our control. However, being prepared and ready to teach is not one of them. You owe it to yourself, your students, and your profession to do the best you possibly can. I wish you the very best!