We aren’t trained as educators in the fire service, we are trained as presenters.
Educators make sure they are hitting on different learning styles, reach different cognition levels, and have a mastery of their subject. They have the ability to read the room to see if students are truly understanding and then clarify as needed. Educators spend hours preparing for a class in order to deliver the most relevant content.
Presenters, however, often just read from a premade slide deck. They may whiz through things they really aren’t an expert on with an off-handed “don’t worry about this part” comment. They rush the foundational knowledge in order to get to the “good stuff” and fail to create connections between deciphering the information and determining the best course of action. They teach the what but not the why.
As an example, the topic of fire behavior has gotten a bad rap from fire service instructors. It’s viewed as a subject that must be trudged through in order to get to the fun things like breaking stuff, crawling around dark rooms, and burning things. It’s likely gotten this bad rap because the average instructor doesn't understand fire behavior. Thus, it becomes a presentation of a prepackaged curriculum with little explanation of the topic beyond the basics.
This might be one of the most important subject matters a firefighter can learn about and we are treating it as just another lecture to be endured. Yet, fire behavior is the key component for pretty much the rest of the chapters in the textbook!
You can not teach what you do not understand yourself. So why do so many instructors try?
What are some solutions?
1. Don’t be satisfied with merely completing an NFPA 1041 certification course. Having a certificate and knowing how to teach are two different things.
2. Read publications beyond the instructor course textbook. There is a wealth of information available that can take you deeper into the science of learning and the art of content delivery.
3. Redesign the published powerpoints. Make them user-friendly; there is way too much clutter on them.
4. Prepare. It’s easy to walk into the classroom, glance at the subject matter for the night, and then start talking. Congratulations! You are now a presenter, not an educator. Don’t wing it!
5. Stay in your lane. Every topic is not for you to deliver. Dig in deep on a small number of areas and master them.
Instructors present. Educators develop the desire for learning in their students.