In my presentations lessons for first-year business students I emphasize that they should break their talks into three to five easily-digested chunks.
It’s a message I say over and over again to students, and still it often doesn’t get through. I figure that’s because it’s one thing to know something and it’s quite another thing to really know something. In this case I was trying to teach students that it’s better to do a few things extremely well than it is to do many things poorly.
But that’s exactly the opposite of what I used to do in my first few years as a college-level business communications instructor. The very idea of getting sick and missing a single lesson used to send me into fits of panic and I used to have to practically shoehorn my lessons into the 45 hours allotted to each course in a semester.Sometimes I would fly through lessons in order to cover everything that I felt students needed to know in order to address all the course learning outcomes. I felt like all of my lessons fit together like a 100,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and every jagged piece was needed to create the complete big picture.
I was wrong, of course. And my lessons were often stressful and rushed, and I have to admit that many just plain sucked.
Meanwhile, some of my more seasoned colleagues would tell me how they wouldn’t hesitate to drop a long-planned lesson in order to address needs that had suddenly come up among a particular semester’s students. That meant that some of the planned lessons weren’t getting taught.
I was incredulous. Wasn’t this sacrificing some of the crucial material that students needed to learn? I couldn’t fathom how I could do something like this in my own course programming. Every bit of information counted, didn’t it?
But then I went away to St. Francis Xavier University to begin my M.Ad.Ed. this past July where no lesson was ever rushed and where instructors emphasized the responsibility of teachers to help students learn not only essential skills but also to help learners to become something more than they are. We learned lessons in small chunks and we learned them well, usually through hands-on exercises and group work.
I think that a switch was flipped then that transformed the way I think and feel about adult learning.
Sure, I still teach the essential skills required by my course learning outcomes, but I don’t panic if lessons have to be altered or shortened. Indeed, I did a fair amount of lesson shuffling when I had to take a week off in October to participate in the birth of our daughter Abigail (so perhaps necessity helped, too).I try to roll with change and seek to turn every teaching challenge into an opportunity to learn or change or to teach in a different way. For example, if a guest speaker cancels at the last minute, it’s a chance to teach something else that wouldn’t have otherwise been covered this semester.
I also devote entire lessons to teaching subjects that have little to do with the straight-up objectives of the course. For example, in my Writing for Marketing class, I recently brought groups of recent graduates to talk to first-years about career strategies. I hoped that the visit would open students’ eyes about the powers of networking and teach them a little about potential careers.
Now we’re nearing the end of the semester. I’ll admit that I wish I had more time to teach my students more essential employability skills. But did I teach them enough foundational writing skills to set them on their way towards a successful career?
Only time will tell.
One thing’s for sure, for the first time ever, I’ve given my students something that’s so much more important: I believe I’ve helped to inspire my students to love learning and to be excited about the steps they need to pursue the careers ahead of them.
And isn’t that what teaching’s all about? After all, if there is no passion and inspiration, can there be any real learning at all?