Across the country, school systems are gearing up for another academic year. Teachers are excited about their new classroom design. Students are looking forward to getting back to their friends. Parents are ecstatic to get the kids out of the house again!
This time of year is also when many fire training academies get back underway. It may be a new recruit academy or a local technical center aimed at volunteers. Large urban department training centers with all the trimmings or small rural classes held in the engine bay. Either way, thousands of adult students will be taking the first step towards serving their community.
These students success depends largely on one key ingredient: You, the Fire Instructor. You are the one standing at the front of the room who is supposed to be the expert, full of life saving knowledge. You are the coach on the drill ground, guiding the crew through the evolution, pointing out the best ways to accomplish the task. In most cases, the students have no real prior training in the fire service. You hold the awesome responsibility of making sure that they get off to a good start.
Here are three things to consider as you prepare for another season of teaching:
Know the WHAT
I am not simply referring to figuring out what class or topic you’ve been assigned to teach. It goes deeper than that. Preplan your topics. There is nothing worse than an instructor who waltzes in at the last minute, looks at the schedule to see what is to be covered, and then dives right in with slide one.
Preplanning your topic means you’ve read the curriculum several times to have an idea of the book terms and objectives. It means going outside the book looking for supporting material. Find issues of industry leaders such as FireEngineering or Firehouse and see what articles have been published on the topic you’re covering. Jump on the web and start following the links to the gazillion sites out there about our industry. Use what works, discard what does not. Practice the skills and drills yourself before you come to class. Be prepared!
Know the HOW
Remember those discussions on Maslow or Knowles and how adults learn? Something about pyramids and meeting needs of students I think. Knowing the how refers to determining how students learn. Every fire class is full of people who “learn best by doing hands on.” They want to get out on the drill ground and skip the lectures. And, quite frankly, so do the instructors! But there are still terms, concepts, and raw material that must be presented in a classroom setting. Knowing how to make this information come alive is critical to the success of the student. Look up flipped learning, create online discussion groups, learn how to play Kahoot! ™ to review material. For more contemporary literature on social psychology and learning read Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Kahneman; Susan Cain has a good book on introverts. Every fire class has them and they tend to get lost in the shuffle. Learn how to reach them.
Know the WHY
Why are you teaching? Is it for the prestige? Pay? Requirement for promotion? Examine your motives. If you can’t honestly say that your reason for teaching is the betterment of the fire service in general, and the local student in particular, then maybe you should consider a different side hustle. There is nothing wrong with seeking compensation for your time invested in preparation and delivering of content, but if the driving force is the perks, move on please. Are you trying to impress students with what you know, or are you trying to impart into the students what you know?
I believe that the good instructors have the best why. They want to pass on what they have learned that worked, and they are not afraid to share personal stories of what did not work. Good instructors don’t just teach the steps of a drill, they demonstrate the drill. Instructors with the best why are interested in the student beyond the classroom. They come early and stay late. They provide extra tips and techniques. They counsel, they cheer, and they even console when needed. Their motives are others focused.
As we once again start preparing for another batch of students, I would encourage you to examine yourself. Have you seriously put in the extra time and effort that it takes to Know the WHAT and Know the HOW for all your classes? Remember, if we expect them to study outside of class then we should as well. Do you Know the WHY behind your desire to teach?
The best instructors believe one simple thing: it’s about them, not us. The person will not be a student for long; in a few short weeks or months they will be FIREFIGHTERS. You are not just teaching someone filling a classroom seat. You are teaching, molding, and most importantly, influencing future firefighters. Someday, when they are in a bad spot, will they be able to rely on the instruction you gave them?
Instructors, are you truly prepared to go back to school this Fall?