About 7 years ago I decided to take a part-time teaching position at a technical post-secondary school. My time in the classroom has been very challenging as well as one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. I believe everyone should spend time in an educational setting teaching others their craft. I also believe that sharing knowledge with others is a responsibility to help your own industry flourish. I wanted to share some of my experiences to help you consider such a move for your own career.
Let’s start by looking at the challenges and some of the solutions I’ve used to meet them over the years.
Not Everyone Learns the Same Way
Over the years, students from all walks of life, age groups and experience levels have sat in my classroom. Fundamentally, teaching is about presenting a concept in the best possible way for your students to grasp. However, no matter how well you prepare, the reality is that your materials will work great for some students and not so well for others. Everyone learns differently and at their own pace.
When you receive feedback from your students, use it to adjust your lesson plans to make sure you reach all students and not just the best and brightest. Try to find ways to get those slower-paced learners up to speed. For example, I’ve allowed students to record lessons so that they can go over them later at their own pace. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of being recorded but I felt it would help so I allowed it. Sure enough the change was usually immediate in those students and they end up making a quick turnaround.
Not Everyone is Cut Out To Be a _______________ (Fill in the blank)
The reality is that there were still some students who no matter how much extra attention I gave them or how much tutoring and extra materials I offered, simply didn’t understand the concepts being taught despite my best efforts. In most cases these students tried really hard and having to sit down with them and explain that I didn’t think they were right for the field is easily the most uncomfortable thing I have had to do as a teacher.
If you’re going to be a truly effective teacher, be prepared to make difficult decisions. As uncomfortable as these conversations are, they sometimes necessary for the good of the class.
You Represent The Industry
You will be the first industry professional most of your students have ever met or been able to speak with. To them, you represent the industry. The stories and opinions you share will shape their understanding of the industry. That is a HUGE responsibility! The hardest part is trying to not take any negativity from a bad day at the office into the classroom. I wasn’t trying to represent the industry as all rainbows and unicorns but I wanted to always teach students to respect clients no matter how frustrating some were.
Instead of just blowing off steam and complaining to students about clients, I tried to use the experiences in a productive way by explaining some of the obstacles they may encounter on a day-to-day basis and how try to overcome them.
The above are probably some of the most substantial challenges to face as a teacher, but if you meet those challenges, the rewards are even more substantial.
It wasn’t long after starting to teach that I began to feel the huge impact I had on my students. Spending time with people who are genuinely interested in the craft and the knowledge you have to share is an amazing feeling. Many of my students were unemployed or underemployed at the time of enrollment, and seeing them graduate and find good entry-level jobs in the industry is very rewarding. Hearing students later on telling me how the lessons and conversations in the classroom helped prepare them for success really makes all my hard work worthwhile.
Learning By Teaching
Probably the most valuable benefit of teaching is how much I’ve learned in the process. Try to explain the difference between HTML and CSS to a new student and I guarantee you will understand the concept better than before. This experience in explaining technical concepts to students will also help you speak with clients without being too technical or intimidating.
Speaking of clients, I wouldn’t have expected this when I started teaching, but it lead to a number of projects outside of the classroom. Multiple students and teachers have passed along solid leads to me because they couldn’t handle the projects themselves with their level of experience.
Over the years, people have asked me if I realized that I was training professionals who will one day replace me or take clients away from me. I’ve honestly never felt that way because there’s plenty of work to go around. From my experience, being a teacher and making a positive impression on your students won’t lose you clients, but could actually generate business for you and your agency.
If you ever decided to start teaching and sharing knowledge of your industry, I assure you that the students will not be the only ones who get something positive from the experience.
~ Walid Elshahed, Web Designer (and educator), The S3 Agency