Getting back to the basics of teaching
Teaching is about engaging students
My grandfather came to the U.S. from Italy as a young boy. In order to support his parents and five sisters, he had to leave school after seventh grade to work at a local mill that manufactured looms for New England’s thriving textile industry. As a young man, he took a correspondence class in machining, became a machinist and eventually became a floor supervisor, where he retired after 50 years. Though his formal education only went through seventh grade, I consider him to be one of the most educated people I have ever known. He taught me that you always have the opportunity to learn, and to teach is a great privilege. He was a lifelong learner who loved to share his knowledge.
I am an electrician who learned my craft primarily in the field. I started as an electrician’s helper with an independent electrician. He showed me the basics and would send me off to fix my own mistakes. Within a week of working for him, my parents’ neighbor asked me to help wire his new home. Although I was new at the craft, he was confident that I could do it. I became motivated as I learned, asking my supervisor questions while I was at work so I could wire our neighbor’s house at night.
As I developed in my career as a commercial electrician, foreman, small contractor and electrical supervisor on large industrial projects, I continued to ask questions and read or study drawings on my own. My first opportunity to teach was at a local community college in the evening. The challenge of teaching others in a comprehensive training program made me aware of the gaps in my own training. In order to be able to teach concepts, especially pertaining to electrical theory, I had to completely understand them myself. Teaching motivated me to get that understanding. What I learned through teaching is that there is always more to learn.
As a craft instructor, I have come to appreciate a few basics about teaching:
- Teaching is not simply presenting, it is about engaging students.
- Students will learn when they are motivated and fully involved in the process.
- Students will learn from one another and will teach others. Peer instruction can be a very effective teaching method.
- Learning takes work and focus. As instructors, we have to expect that of our students.
- Students will learn from their mistakes. Classroom activities will allow for a learning curve, but we must not leave students with an unclear understanding of the correct outcomes.
- The basics must be repeated and reinforced over and over.
- Teaching others is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs that one can have.
- There is always something new to learn.
- People are worth investing time and effort in.
About the Author
Jonathan Sacks is the transmission and distribution training manager for Cianbro Corporation in Maine. He is a licensed master electrician in three states, an OSHA outreach trainer and an NCCER Master Trainer and craft instructor. He remains active as an adjunct electrical instructor at two community colleges and is the 2015 Associated Builders and Contractors’ Craft Instructor of the Year.