Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I’ve been a student for most of my 62 years and a teacher for a significant portion of my adult life. Along the way, I’ve learned some important lessons. As I’ve worked with adults who want to learn about preserving food, I’ve seen reticence, skepticism, fear, and reluctance transformed by the power of knowledge and success.

Many students come to the table with little practical knowledge but a great deal of life experience. In a true teaching environment, both teacher and student learn. Lessons learned have merit for every venture we undertake as adults, and they also speak to the unique role of teacher and adult student.

The first rule a teacher needs to learn is “It’s not about me.” That’s a simple statement, but many teachers continue to wield the baton of authority and dominance and refuse to see their students for who they are – not children to be coerced but rather as adults with questions.

Our adult students are successful in many areas of their lives. They come to us wanting to learn more. Our task is to increase their knowledge and it’s an honor to teach them. We have knowledge in an area that is new to them, and our task is to bring them up to speed, while respecting them.

What are the key factors to teaching adults successfully?

1. Accept questions as legitimate and answer them. There are no foolish questions.
2. Understand that your terminology may be unfamiliar. Seek to explain it in ways your students can understand.
3. Beginning any new venture is unsettling. Understand this and have a plan for alleviating that anxiety rather than castigating it. Humor, not sarcasm, is very helpful. Share stories of your own early efforts that went down in flames. You will bond with your students and they will learn to trust you.
4. Have a plan. At the beginning, give a detailed outline of what you’re going to cover and when. Don’t be vague. Most adults can cope successfully with change - if they are given clear, specific guidelines.
5. Model what you teach. Instead of directing people to go look for something, show them yourself how it works. Use examples that are familiar to your students.
6. Be present. Be available. Be ready to demonstrate. If you’re too busy to answer questions, you’re too busy to teach.
7. Respect your students.
8. Understand that people learn in different ways. Some learn visually, some are auditory learners, and some need to work it out kinesthetically.

These guidelines have served me well over the course of many years. When a student is unsure, confused, or struggling, this is the teaching moment. Drop the mantle of authority and become a teacher. You’ll reap rewards beyond measure.

And for those who may scoff, I defer to the Teacher, Himself. He never belittled or played the power card. He taught simply and effectively, and His lessons shine down through the ages.

And for the Adult Student: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If your teacher won’t answer them, find one who will. I hope those of you who use this site find benefit from it and ask questions if you need to. I promise to do my best to answer each and every one of them with respect.


  1. This is really good and useful advice no matter what we're teaching. I organize writers' critique groups and teach beginning writers everything from formatting a manuscript to using Track Changes in Word, so I find your comments very helpful. Thanks!


  2. Your blog is amazing!! There's so much good stuff here--I will puruse it more than once to gather up and absorb all your life's lessons.

    I esp. like your point about people learning in different ways. We should all take that to heart and respect each other's strengths and weaknesses.

    Great post!

  3. Awesome post. I've always viewed the "weilding of authority" as a sign of insecurity. A student in one area may well be a master in many others.

    All success
    Think, Write & Retire

  4. Good post. A lot of excellent points here. I've taught adults before in different settings, and would have to concur with your list.

  5. Like this post... It's about YOU! And you're right -- Never be afraid to ask questions.

  6. This post is well written. As a teacher, I concur with all of it. As I look at some of the points, a second time, however, I wonder…Is there a second level message here?

  7. Like the others, I feel like your tips are important for all of us to remember. I'm enjoying learning something new with you! :)


  8. Excellent blog! Not only adult students, but everyone has a different learning curve - some things come easier to them than other topics. Treating them with respect and understanding goes a lot further in enabling them to understand the lesson being taught than annoyance or sarcasm.

    I am really enjoying all the things you are teaching on your blog - I don't know much about preserving food, but you insiteful posts have definitely piqued my interest.

    NA Sharpe


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~ I'm the author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen. If you're a WWII buff, you'll like it here!