I remember being asked in a job interview some years back whether I regarded myself as a teacher or a trainer. I was momentarily stumped. I had never thought of this nor considered this before. On the surface, it certainly seemed that both were synonymous. I like tomahto, you like tomayto. Oh, tomayto, tomahto. The wordsmith/lyricist in me prompted me that the term “trainer” has an ominous ring to it. I don’t have a degree in Education, but i thought, “what the hell!?
I’ve been thinking lately about what exactly makes a good teacher. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a degree or certificate. People who’ve earned those pieces of paper may have gained all sorts of knowledge, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be any good at teaching.
I’ve certainly had my share of teachers who were awesome, who loved their jobs and the material they were teaching, who wanted to share that love with their students. But I’ve also had more than a fair share of teachers who should have been doing something else besides torturing students and killing any interest or joy in the learning– the ones who don’t even seem to like students, but seem determined to spread misery. My memories of my days in UP Manila were absolutely dreadful that it took me years before I could pass by without wincing or wrinkling my nose. I’m sure I had some nice (I just can’t bring myself to say wonderful) memories and some pretty decent teachers, but the Cruela-de-Vil-esque ones stand out.
I’ve always felt that being an educator isn’t about what you do; it’s about who you are. During my years of formal education, and throughout my career, I’ve found that my best teachers and instructors were those who brought their personality, passion, and experience into the classroom — they didn’t just teach about a subject, they opened up a conversation that included themselves and us, the learners. The classroom became a think tank — a place where learning from each other became the norm and not the exception.
Based on my readings, I realized that my role is more of a facilitator than a teacher. Prior to taking this course, I was aware of my style and what approaches activities I favored and where I drew inspiration from. Now I realize there was a concept behind it. Well, I guess now I know why I got a 1.75 in Philo in college instead of a 1.0.
As a trainer/facilitator, I was raised to believe that it’s not all about me and my understanding, it’s about leading my learners to a new understanding within themselves. My job was not to tell; my job was stimulate thinking, encourage exploration, make associations, and be a connector.
I’ve been teaching Accent Neutralization for a number of years. Each time we discussed Phonics and Phonetics, I found many of my trainees responding like a deer in the headlights. What did the IPA and MWCD mean to them? How could I make Phonics and Phonetics more interesting, meaningful and engaging? I faced this conundrum during my early years as a trainer. I must have put a lot of trainees to sleep and driven the countless others to be prostrated with grief and exhaustion.
Several tosses and turns later, I had to cut the cord on a few approaches that were not working. I figured I had to get off my comfy pedestal and be a tad but more relatable.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Here’s where a healthy dose of pop culture, a sprinkle of Kris Aquino and a dash of the Sex Bomb dancers’ chant — Aww –, no less, came to my rescue. It was a cringe-worthy moment, but it worked. My trainees would say, “Oh, now I get it!” and the light bulb moment would occur. Hallelujah (Insert victory running man here)! Something so technical was explained with a juxtaposition to local TV personalities and good deal of animation and imagination. Who knew?!
I discovered the teachable moment occurs in their minds, not in mine. When you move from teacher to facilitator you leverage the shared experiences and wisdom of your learners to provide an environment where applied and “real” learning can take place. As much as the bourgeois in me hates to admit it, the crass illustration worked. It was not about me and my pride. As a trainer, there were a lot of other times I had to reexamine my beliefs and attitudes for learning’s sake.
The IronTrainer Challenge
We’ve all had those teachers. They were the ones who talked a mile a minute, and we all left the classroom as ignorant as before we came to class and as bewildered as ever. I never thought a day would come when I would be denigrated to such lows.
One time, I was teaching Phrasal Verbs. The module contained 67 slides, and the lesson plan stated that the module was good for an hour. I attempted to cover everything. Thirty minutes through what I thought was the IronTrainer Challenge, I was page 28. I was exhausted, and my throat was parched. At the end of that hour, I couldn’t even be bothered to ask whether they understood the lesson. I think teachers and students are equally guilty of this. Cram. Memorize. Regurgitate. Forget. I say teachers and students alike because as teachers, we sometimes cover too much territory, tackle an even wider range of topics in such a short amount of time. The “inch-deep” coverage makes it harder for students to remember what they learned. Then next year, since they’ve forgotten it all, we have to review it. As a trainer, I had to learn how to pace myself. It is not about the teaching material; it’s all about student learning.
I personally I see a facilitator as someone who bridges that gap between the student and the material — more of a discussion leader. I see a teacher as more of a lecturer — less conversation, more talking to (or “at”) the learner. As a facilitator, I bring my student in contact with something and help them to relate to it. I converse with them. Ask questions. Point out interesting things.
A teacher would sit them down and do more of a lecture-style session with them. Fill their heads with facts and information rather than giving them direct access to the materials themselves.
One is mainly information being poured into the hearers (and many times that’s what’s needed to impart quantities of information in a limited amount of time). The facilitating method tends to be more relational. I remember my training manager teaching me the 70/30 principle. An effective class, she said, comprised of 70% student talk time and 30% teacher talk time.
One of the most important things I’ve realized over time is that I can’t really force my students to learn anything. Learning is something that happens within them; it’s an act of “their” will, of “their” mind, of “their” heart. I can teach and/or facilitate until I’m blue in the face, but only “they” can actually “learn” something.
And I think usually they want to learn — unless something happens to kill their natural curiosity about something.
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.”
– Oscar Wilde