Monday, May 15, 2006

The Rewards of Teaching

I spent a number of years in the Air Force in an instructor position where I was responsible for both classroom and one-on-one instruction.  Teaching anything is hard work, and it’s often not rewarding in obvious ways — you end up putting in a lot of preparation hours for classes or sessions and far too many times you’ll have a group of your students who couldn’t give a rat’s keester about being in your room.  If you’re lucky you might get one or two students/attendees who say “Thanks.”

It’s also seriously challenging because you’ve got to be on top of your game when you’re instructing.  You need to know your topic matter inside and out, because it never fails that you’ll get a question which makes you rethink your approach to the material.  You also need to be able to quickly come up with alternative approaches to the particular concept you’re trying to get across.  Your planned approach rarely comes through to all your students, so you need to be able to come at the concept from a number of different angles in order to get your points to folks who might not have understood your first attempt.

Tough work, no?

That said, every once in a while you get the tremendous reward of seeing someone’s eyes light up as a concept they’ve been struggling with finally sinks in.  It’s a wicked cool thing to see that happen, and it’s a tremendous motivator to push you on for your next class/session/whatever.

I was fortunate to have someone at my Intro to Security session at the Day of .NET in Ann Arbor get  one of those lights turned on, and I was more fortunate that the person took a moment to let me know about it after the session.  I missed the guy’s name, but he stopped me afterwards and said he’d been struggling with the concepts of public/private key encryption off and on for a year.  He even had this topic covered as part of a class he’d taken and it still didn’t sink in.  He said my ten minute coverage of keys finally cleared things up for him.

I tell ya, there was nothing more rewarding I could have taken away from the conference.  Nothing.  Whoever you were, you made my week!

I’m not passing this on to brag about my instructing or presenting skills.  What I’m trying to get across is just how wonderful the feeling is when a student or attendee passes on a remark like that to you after you’ve worked hard on a presentation or lesson plan. 

Do yourself a favor and push yourself to get into a mentoring or instructing role, or brush up your presentation skills and go talk at a users group or conference.  There is no better way to advance yourself than having to learn things well enough to teach someone else, plus it’s a great way to give back to your team, company, or community.  

You’ll be happy you did.

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