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How to be a teacher

Matt_30 Member Posts: 16
I've found The Wall to be an invaluable resource, and I'm very grateful for the great teachers who have generously given their time on this forum. Now, someone here in Denver has decided to hire me as a teacher. After a few hot days on the roof last week and over 40 years of working with my body (37 of them in HVACR), I've decided to accept. I've owned my own small shop for the past 25 years, and I expect that this will be quite the change and that a learning curve will be involved. My background is in commercial HVAC and refrigeration, with a fair amount of hydronics as well. I'm asking for advice from those of you who teach, whether it be at seminars or in classrooms. I've always enjoyed teaching people, but I realize that there's a huge difference between talking to a couple apprentices or a few building maintenance personnel and standing in front of a class of 20 or 30 inquiring minds. I'd like to be like Dan Holohan, who has a very approachable and coherent way of imparting knowledge, and who once gently chided me when I got snotty online. I'd like to teach with his kind of empathy and kindness. I'm only slightly terrified. Thanks!


  • Matt_30
    Matt_30 Member Posts: 16
    I haven't, but I will be.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,795
    Congratulations! The most valuable thing I learned in teaching of technical subjects (programming in my case) is that it's not a matter of "whether" someone (or more likely, some percentage!) in the room isn't following what you're saying, it's a matter of getting them to feel comfortable enough to share that fact with you and the rest of the class.

    And it's very hard to figure it out yourself because it seems so very clear in your own mind since you have high familiarity with the subject, and you created the teaching environment!

    Always a challenge!

    NJ Steam Homeowner.
    Free NJ and remote steam advice: https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/new-jersey-steam-help/
    See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el

  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,389
    edited July 2020
    Hi, I reviewed Dan's book that Erin mentioned, a while back. Here's that review:

    I used to feel nothing but awkward when getting up in front of any crowd ... unless it was a small crowd and I could talk about something I really knew and liked, like hot water.
    Years ago, I ran across this book How to Teach Technicians. Holohan knows that technicians are more visual and tactile than “regular” people. We want and need to see and touch things to understand them. I understand this rather well as I R one. I recently went looking for the book, and the good news is that it has just been rewritten and completely updated. The book walks you through the entire process of teaching, from knowing your audience, your material, and the environment you’ll be teaching in, to stories about the many ways teaching can get disrupted by things like dogs, crows, very hot light-bulbs, and not really knowing just what you’re doing!

    Dan makes it clear how important humor and connecting with your audience are for getting good results. I know his approach works. Some years ago, I was asked to give a talk on hot water at an American Water Works Association conference. I brought along a cut out water heater as my main visual aid All the other speakers seemed to be reading from their PowerPoint presentations, so when I came up with this heater and other real things to pass around the room, people got excited. I noticed people in the audience calling their friends and telling them, “Get over here—you must see this presentation!” That much excitement over water heating feels rather good to this hot-water nerd! Dan likes to say, ”Always remember, there are no boring subjects, there are only boring people.” Without Dan’s guidance, I probably would be one of those boring people!

    Dan tells his story and how he came to understand the art and science of teaching. He then gets into the nuts and bolts of how to be a good teacher. The book is peppered with stories, which it seems we are hardwired to pay attention to.
    Also, Dan has a way of making you feel like he’s speaking directly to you—which he is doing, and for good reason. Here he tells you directly:
    When you watch the news on TV don’t you get the feeling that the person reading the news is talking just to you? You don’t feel like a part of an enormous crowd, do you? No, it’s personal . . . Now consider what the newsreader is going through. She’s sitting at a desk in a TV studio . . . She’s probably thinking about one person while she’s reading . . . She’s probably not thinking that she’s talking to all of America . . . And that’s why she makes the big bucks. She talks to just one person. She talks to you. And that’s a good thing because when you think about it, only one person at a time is watching and listening to her . . . Now, when I would get up in front of a crowd, I would get nervous at first, as I told you before. But then I would remind myself that the crowd is made up of individuals. They’re there together, sure, and they do look like a big hunk of humanity, but the truth is they’re just individuals who happen to be sitting together in a big room . . . And that’s why I don’t get nervous beyond those first few minutes . . .

    When I first read the book, I was so overwhelmed with all the information that I didn’t know if I could manage it all, but surprisingly, over time it just soaked in, seemingly making me better at teaching without a lot of effort. It must be that if you know what you should do to teach, getting it right isn’t that challenging.

    For more information on this book, see the Heating Help website.
    I must admit to having a bias. I count Dan as a friend, so I wouldn’t want to give an unenthusiastic review, but fortunately there is no real downside to this book. It has good and useful info for both new and experienced teachers. Dan’s experience teaching seminars certainly is different from the kind of thing a classroom teacher has to deal with. He’s dealing with new places and people each time, which isn’t the case for the classroom teacher. Each kind of teaching poses its own challenges. Still, I’ve known classroom teachers who could have benefited from Dan’s experiences. Also, reading through the new edition gave me lots of new stuff to play with; when the first edition was written, PowerPoint was a new and unreliable technology.
    Although the title says this book is about teaching technicians, fact is, this book is about teaching any adult who has ears and eyes that are openable. Dan makes learning and teaching fun, not dry, boring, or painful, so who wouldn’t want to soak up some knowledge while having a good time?
    Every good teacher got to that point somehow. Most likely did it by going to the schools of hard knocks, flubs, and embarrassments. Dan gives you an easier and faster path.

    Yours, Larry
  • DavidinKenai
    DavidinKenai Member Posts: 10
    All my conveying the trades to others has been one-on-one. My classroom experience is in teaching math and coaching competitive math to the top students in the state.

    You'll find out that many things you assume everyone knows, not everyone knows. I try hard to get them to ask questions when that happens. In a competitive setting, I tell them, "Your team WANTS you to ask questions" - if there's something you don't know, I can (probably) explain it and then the team will get another point in the next competition.

    In shop or trades class, maybe bring in some tasty donut or cookie and the student who asks the best question that morning or asks for the most needed detailed explanation, wins the cookie at the end of class. Do that for a week or two to set the tone that you NEED them to call you out if you move too quickly.

    Do as much hands-on stuff as you can. Sweat pipes. Run PEX and crimp fittings. But do it in a way that MATTERS - that you can test for leaks. Stress that if they only get it right 99% of the time, they'll leave 2 or 3 leaks behind on every job.

    At some point, talk about job-site culture and etiquette. Borrow a tool one day? Okay. But be damn sure to buy your own by tomorrow. Cleanliness, customer relations, language, etc.

    Be inspirational. Old people die without air conditioning. Millions used to die of dysentery and cholera. Modern plumbing and sanitation are responsible for at least as many saved lives as modern medicine.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,476
    Getting comfortable in front of a room is one of the steps to master. If you can, a Toastmaster class or Dale Carnegie can help.

    You will learn how to adapt the training to different skill levels.

    For hands on students, demos and pass arounds help break up a lecture or ppt presentation. If you don't know the answer to a question, find out and get back to them. Not a good idea to try and bluff your way, they will know :)

    If you are teaching hydronic and plumbing topics we can help with Idronics issues, each issue could be a course.

    Every trainer finds and adopts a style that best matches their group, it will take a few events to become comfortable.

    Good for you for taking on them challenge.

    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Matt_30
    Matt_30 Member Posts: 16
    I knew that this was the right place to ask this question. Thanks to everyone for the valuable input. Larry, you're preaching to the choir. Dan's a great writer; people whom I have directed to his books and blogs seem to enjoy them and actually come away with useful information. I've ordered the book Erin recommended also. It will be interesting to work on this side of the roof.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,568
    Thanks, Matt and Larry. I’m smiling.
    Retired and loving it.
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 2,083
    @Matt_30 back in the 1980's when I first started teaching I was reminded by some of the more experienced voc. ed. teachers that the best teachers are the ones who listen closely to what the students are doing. Also, getting to know your students as to what best works for them, motivates them etc.
    Looking over the subject matter within the required curriculum and being prepared for the class is very important. And if you don't know something, say so. The students will respect your honesty. No one is a know it all. ( There's to much of this stuff to know everything. )
    I'm certain that you will find a few things that you have long since forgotten about that will come up. Roll with it and involve the students in getting to the answer.
    I also find that many of the @DanHolohan books that are available here are great in enhancing the required curriculum.
    Continue to invest in these well written books. They are most often entertaining and cover real life scenarios of almost any job that may come up. They have helped me to be a better teacher and communicator over the years.
    Best of luck to you on your new job choice and congratulations.
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,600
    When I taught, I learned more from the students. They will ask a question that you won't know the answer cold and you will have to hit the books to find the answer.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
    edited July 2020
    I relate this story to my 1-day seminar students @Matt_30.

    At age 24 I started my own HVAC business. The owner of the supply house must have seen potential in me and encouraged me to take a one-day seminar on Hydronic Heating offered by the B&G company. Over 40 years ago the cost was $125.00. Not a small price back then. After a lot of selling, I paid the fee, took a day off from work, and went to the hotel meeting room with over 70 others to hear the speaker. He was an older fellow with gray hair named Ed and he was very informative and I believe I learned some things I did not know before, in the first 2 hours. We then took a coffee break.

    The second portion of the seminar was all over my head and the rest of the day was a waste of my time. For $125.00 I was very disappointed.

    A year went by and the seminar was again advertised, and the owner of the supply house encouraged me again to attend. This was a very hard sell for him since I expressed my disappointment with the first time I attended. But he was successful and I attended the class. It turned out to be the same exact class. For the first two hours, it was basically a review of what I already knew. Then a coffee break, then the second portion started.

    To my surprise, I understood the entire 2-hour presentation and learned soo much. I was excited to see what was to follow after lunch.

    After lunch, I did my best to try to understand but it was all over my head again. Disappointed I left the seminar and tried to review the notebook and read as much as I could about the subject of Hydronics. At this time @DanHolohan was still honing his craft of teaching... so there were no "Heating for Dummies" or "Non-engineering" texts on the subject yet.

    Another year went by and the same class was offered again. I signed up right away. I knew the drill. I would get a little more knowledge each time. As expected the first and second sections were review, right up to lunchtime. After lunch, there was a wealth of knowledge that I understood and was so happy for the opportunity to be a part of Ed's classes. He was able to teach me something new and I was very grateful for the opportunity to hear him speak and teach and help me to understand more and more about the workings and the secrets of Hydronics.

    But as usual, the afternoon break came and went, the class was again... over my head. I would have to wait for next year to complete the final portion of that 1-day seminar.

    I could not wait for next year to pay my $125.00 and get the GoldenTicket of Hydronic Knowledge.

    As fate would have it, Ed died. I never had a chance to get that knowledge, I never got to understand the last 2 hours of the class.

    I guess this story says several things.

    #1 Everybody in your class has a different starting point. Different basic knowledge of your subject. I was a different person each year I took the class, I had a different "Basic Knowledge" to start with each year.

    #2 I knew enough to realize that my inability to understand the next step was not a reason to stop the class to ask my "Dumb Question" especially since I could sense that others were having no problem following the material... Some of your students may not be up to speed with the rest of the class. (and they may not tell you) You may need to allow extra time to get them up to speed on basic concepts.

    #3 Remembering my learning experience helps me to adjust my class to the audience. Before teaching one-day seminars, I taught Adult Evening Classes at our local Vo-Tec school for several years. Some years I had mostly homeowners in the class, other years I had mostly trade people. I believe each year my class was slightly different based on the audience.

    Have stories to make the mind's eye see that you can't see in person. Electricity is colorblind... and Water can't see the arrows on the outside of the pipe to know which way to go... are two of my favorites.

    I wish you success in your new adventure

    Ed Y.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    Larry Weingartenmattmia2Matt_30