Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's Scary About Teaching, Part 3

This is the third post in a series. Here are the others:

The authorities! The authorities!

I don’t do this in the standard way. Don’t I have to teach the standard way?
People will argue with me.
I’m not up to date.
The authorities will disapprove.

Okay. First, are there really authorities in your field? Are you imagining a committee that will have an official meeting and decide to condemn you for your uppitiness or incorrect methods?

Or, in your field, are there highly respected people with good ideas?

I went through this when I taught my first workshop about indexing. I felt as if I was coming from nowhere, suddenly stepping out and offering people advice and guidance. Who did I think I was? (See I’m not perfect). And more than that—I disagreed with some of the published authors in the field. Yikes!

Well, it turned out that my methods are extremely helpful to indexers. People love them.

I have become one of those highly respected people with good ideas myself!

What’s more, people did argue with me as I taught my workshops (you know who you are, Michael and Sylvia!) —and I survived. In fact, it was fun.

What do you do when someone argues? You listen to them. You say, how interesting. You see if there’s something you can learn.

And you explain why you do it your way. Because way more important than one strategy or another is the rationale for deciding. Why do you do it that way? For instance, in indexing the two most important principles are to be true to the text’s meaning and helpful to the reader. That’s what I want my students to understand. My specific strategies, although I’m quite opinionated about some of them, are really paths to those ends. If someone takes a different path, that’s fine.

My niece teaches kung fu. There are lots of different ways to put together a series of moves, and so she often gets, “My other teacher doesn’t do it that way! He says to do a hard block.” How does she answer? “Yes, there are many ways to do this. Because I have less muscle mass in my upper body, I choose to do a circle feint at this point. The most important thing is to respond appropriately to the attack.”

By opening up the discussion and giving learners permission to choose for themselves, you are empowering them much more than if you just pounded your own way into their heads.

And they will end up respecting and listening to you much more too.

Too many other people are already teaching about this.

Havi Brooks addressed this so eloquently and funnily in her Blogging Therapy post that I’m going to summarize a few points here and then send you over there to read the whole thing.

1. Yes, lots of other people are teaching about this. Art? How to give workshops? Parenting? Are you kidding? But the fact is that people who want to learn about something want to learn everything they can get their hands on. Just because there are lots of restaurants doesn’t mean no-one should open a new yummy one.

2. What you have to offer is unique to you. All of those other presenters are not teaching the same thing you are, because your knowledge comes from your own experience and process of discovery. Your Right People want exactly what you are giving. Don’t deprive them of it!

3. Everybody, including those Great People who are already teaching your subject, feels like this. Normal!!

I have to address everything that has been said about this subject.

Everything. Ever. Including the thing that hasn't even been written yet.

Short answer: nope.

And when I started teaching time management, I was boggled to paralysis by the thousands of other teachers/books/blogs/systems out there. Every time I thought of a good way to explain, say, the limits of working memory, I'd find someone else talking about the same topic. Oh no! I have to report their point of view too?

There’s no way to include thousands of points of view. People want my point of view.

I started to panic as I started to write my book about indexing, based on my workshop. A lot of people have talked about subheadings. How can I organize my own material about how I create them and also address all that stuff? And say which parts I agree with and which parts I disagree with? And answer all of the possible arguments? Oh no, oh no!

Fortunately, some indexing-expert supportive friends sat me down and said, “You don’t have to do that. People want to know how you do it. Just say it’s not a literature review and move on.”

Oh. What a relief!

People want to know how you do it.

Furthermore, they want guidance and direction. They want to trust your competence. That works better if you don’t waffle.

Of course you’ll acknowledge that there are a lot of different ways to do the thing. (See above.) And of course you'll credit people if you learned from them or you're quoting their ideas.

But there’s a reason you chose your way. Let your learners see your confidence, and they will confidently relax and learn.

Comment-land: has any of this helped you move towards teaching? I'd love to hear about it! And please tell me if I missed any fears! There could always be a number four...


  1. What's Scary About Teaching, Part 3 <-- that's what i was looking for
    Dissertation Literature Review

  2. Thanks for letting me know about other good stuff!


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