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What Is a Good Teaching Philosophy?

As a trainer/teacher, you have to believe that something good is going to happen in your classroom. In that respect, you have to have a philosophy of teaching. What do you believe about teaching? What do you consider your role as a teacher/trainer? Are you there just to make a fast buck, or are you there to teach the advertised topic to those who have gathered in the classroom? What do you want for the students? You have a captive audience—what are your objectives for this group of people? Are you there simply to survive a dog-and-pony show? I hope not! Are you there just to read a book to these high-paying customers? Don't laugh; a lot of teacher/trainers do just that. They give the training business a bad name. They make me furious. Will you be available to the students when the class is over? Will you give them your e-mail address or phone number so they can contact you with questions after the fact?

At the beginning of every course, I explain to my students my philosophy of technical training. I do not intend to read the book to them. I do not intend to pontificate. I do not intend to waste their time, my time, their money, or my money. I do not pretend to know everything. If I can't answer a question with certainty, I tell the students I will research it and get back to them. I ask them what their objectives are for the class; that is, what do they want to leave with. Do they want to get certified; do they want to get a job; do they want to learn a skill; do they just want to take up space and kill time? It is their call. Based on the answers, I direct my classes (within reason) to satisfy the students' needs and desires while meeting the class objectives.

I then explain that my classes are designed to help them in the topic at hand (whether it be Novell, Microsoft, CompTIA, or Prosoft technologies), while at the same time making the world of IT fun and enjoyable. About 50% of my classroom time is spent on real-world, hands-on activities; and 50% is spent on discussion, lecture, and stories of the real-world of IT. My strengths are in networking—I do not try to hide that. I am not a programmer. I know good programmers, and I go to them when I have a problem. That is also networking.

I tell my students to feel free to bring in questions/situations from their workplace, even if they are only tangentially related to the course. Why? The classroom is and can be an antiseptic, controlled learning environment. The classroom is a place where students should feel free to experiment without fear of retribution. If a student wants to try a configuration in the class that kills connectivity, the student will want to find out the why of the problem. In the real world, the student would be looking for a new job. In the classroom, the student is looking for the answer. My job as the teacher is to provide a safe, fun, learning environment while at the same time providing real-world opportunities. I also give my students my e-mail address and home phone so that they can contact me with problems or questions after the class is over. I firmly believe that the class does not end on Friday. It ends when the student is comfortable with the material.

I share three philosophical points with my students at the beginning of the courses I teach:

  • When you are searching for a career, find one that you love and one in which you can earn a good living. If you love what you do, and do not have to worry about financial concerns, life is very good. IT can provide such a career. IT is open to people no matter what their age or background is.

  • No matter what sector of IT you go into, be prepared to work very hard. This is not a cakewalk. Be prepared to continually upgrade your skills. Lifelong learning is a way of life. And, by all means, get certified. A degree is great, but certification gets you in the door.

  • Enter the field with a desire to excel, not just exist. The IT field has taken off because many in it have a philosophy of excellence, not mediocrity. Those in IT who do well are not just trying to make a fast buck, but to make a difference. It does not matter if you are working in programming, networking, Internet design, database administration and design, or training: Keeping your skills up-to-date and being the best in the business are keys to success in IT.

Now what? If I have your interest, you might think about writing up a one-page teaching philosophy, so that you can concretely analyze what you want to happen in the classroom between you and the students. It is an invaluable exercise. Also, write a list of the seven traits you think an IT trainer must have. You might want to think back to a good teacher that you had, and consider what made him/her a good teacher. Do you want to be a teacher like s/he was? I know that my role model for teaching IT is my high school Chemistry teacher. She taught me so much about interacting with students, creating a quality classroom environment, and respecting the students. I will never be the teacher she was, but I will continue to pursue the goal.

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