Friday, November 17, 2017

Teaching roles

Arguably the most important goal any instructor has in their classes is to make sure that the material being taught is presented to the students as best as possible. In order to accomplish that, the person doing the teaching has to take quite a few variable into account (students’ motivation, predisposition for the subject at hand, group dynamics etc.), but first and foremost they manner in which they conduct the classes, simply because that happens to be the aspect they have the most control of. I have already discussed the need to be able of speaking to various people in their “own language”, in terms of how do you formulate your message. This time, let’s take a step further and see how the said message is packed to be sent.

It should be more or less known by now that the properly chosen material to be worked in a training session should be challenging but doable. It is the approach one uses to get their student to do it, despite being challenging, that sets the tone here. There seem to be three main styles of talking to the trainees, and I will use arbitrary monikers here to label them:

·         Caring supporter;
·         Gambler/challenger;

·         Drill sergeant.
Helping, caring hand
In essence, the first one mentioned is the type that encourages their students by using affirmative language and actions, in order to help them achieve the desired result. For example, the caring supporter will be saying things like “come on, I know you can do it! You’re almost there, just one more step/rep/second...!” They will also commonly be giving the students applause, patting their backs and doing other things of that sort if they succeed, or even if they don’t, but in the latter case the emphasis will be on commending the spirit and effort demonstrated during the attempt. This fashion of coaching is especially suited for beginners and/or very young students.

The gambler/challenger plays the card of people often wanting to prove others wrong when daring them to do or not do something, i.e. expressing doubt in their ability to accomplish something. Typically, such trainers and training partners will utter stuff like “I bet you can’t _____ that, even if your life depended on it”, or “if you do _____ I’ll eat my socks!” You get the idea… In my experience, this sort of tainting is mostly prevalent among the people who are basically peers – equal training partners or in the cases when the instructor-student relationship is relaxed and not very formal.

"You dirty, rotten, fitlhy..."
Finally, when the training session is bordering abuse (or at least looking like it), you’re having the drill sergeant at work. Such situations will offer plenty of foul language, insults and dismissal of the trainee’s effort, sometimes even if they do achieve the task. “You pussy! Why am I wasting my time with you, you worthless peace of shit!? Is that the best you can do, you big sissy?”… I guess that even by reading this you can rather vividly imagine the tone of voice and facial expressions that go with it. Typically, this is the approach associated with boot camps of all sorts, hence the chosen designation for these instructors.

Now, some may ask, which of the above teaching tactics is the best? Well, from the last sentence of each of those paragraphs, it should be clear that each has their place, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, more than one of those can be used even with the same student or within the same training session, again, depending on the situation. Ideally, an instructor should be able to take the shape of any of the above and speak as a different person when it is called for, but… I think it is counterproductive to force yourself to be one of those “personifications” if it really goes against your grain or moral fiber. The reason is, if you are unable to be authentic in a given role, the outcome will also be less than ideal. 

Finally, keep in mind that the described tactics are not necessarily clear cut and sharply distinctive among themselves. As always, they are more of the streamlined fragments of a continuum and should be taken and utilized as such. The bottom line is – assume the personality that will suit your students’ needs best, and not just because you are in that kind of mood that day. 

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