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.