In Teaching, Its Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It

The crafty art of communication is at the root of every aspect of life. Much of what we have to say every day is basic to all we do. It is this interplay with words that makes the world go round However, you might be surprised at how many people forget the basics on a daily basis. they are so busy doing their jobs that they forget what they need to know to perform them.

Given the increasing responses to terrorist-related threats. alarms, and alerts, we must re-double our efforts to properly communicate our thoughts and ideas. I intend to present some communication's properties that you can use to provide the best possible learning environment for your students.

Pay attention, because they are all directed at you. Many of them fall directly under your purview. It is the diligent instructor who seeks to delineate learning activities with the best interests of the student in mind.

Attitude and demeanor are primary among the influences over which an instructor has direct control. We have often told audiences in our instructional programs that nobody likes a dope or a mope. Many instructional problems that we have seen through the years are directly attributable to having and instructor on the podium that wanted no part of teaching.

We must present our thoughts seriously and correctly. We must also express them in an extremely sincere and caring manner. Remember that how you act directly influences the people in your class. As folks at the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) have so wisely written, "instructor's attitudes expressed through their behaviors can positively influence learning." We have found that it is important to make your students feel that each of them has the power to acquire new skills. You must work to build their confidence in themselves. 

It is critical for you to create a classroom environment that is as stress free as possible. You must also work to eliminate frustration in learning experience to the greatest extent possible. There are those students for whom the classroom will always be a strange and foreboding environment. You do not have to make it worse. 

Because each of us is different, as an instructor you must celebrate these difference and encourage their acceptance by your students. If you are straightforward and advance an independence of expression, your class will pick up on it and emulate your style. If you encourage people to be a part of the classroom process, they will normally respond in a positive manner. 

I have read professional journal articles that speak of how you can advocate for success in the classroom through the mechanism of getting people to speak their minds. you do not always have to agree with what they say, but you would be well advised to hear them out. 

Some of the best ideas we have ever heard came about as a result of freewheeling, open-ended discussions, where bad ideas were the stimulus for great ideas. People can thrive in that sort of environment. 

Every success on the part of one of your students is an occasion to provide support and positive stimulation. A pat on the back is always better than a kick in the butt. It makes people feel that you appreciate them for who they are what they do.

At this point, it is appropriate to introduce the age-old method for teaching students. I was exposed to this when I entered the U.S. Air Force Fire Department in 1966. The elements of this program of instructional delivery are:

  • Preparation
  • Presentation
  • Application
  • Evaluation

The first step involves a number of different types of preparation. You must prepare the lesson, the classroom, the learning environment and, most importantly, the student.

This preparation starts with a solid lesson plan that covers all of the facts to be presented. It should flow in an orderly fashion from points that the student already knows to the material to be learned and it should be prepared in a manner which will allow others to teach your class if you are suddenly unavailable, for whatever reason, to teach the class.

Be sure that there are sufficient desks, chairs, handouts and lighting to get the job done. Ensure that the classroom is bright and airy and that the temperature is within comfortable limits. Have all in readiness prior to the students' arrival. 

Once the class begins, you must prepare the minds of the students to accept what is being delivered and create a foundation for learning According to Fire Service Instructor, this can be done in the following manner:

  • Ask questions
  • Cite examples
  • Relate personal experiences
  • Review previous lesson 
  • Conduct diagnostic quizzes
  • Cite the benefits of learning the lesson

Once the class participants are in gear and moving, you must make your instructional presentation to them. Your main objectives are to proffer new know how, fresh views, and improved procedures to the student and then instruct them in their use.

The next step in your delivery requires you to give class participants an opportunity to exercise their new knowledge By letting students practice what you have preached, under your tutelage, they will become a part of the learning process; sometimes without knowing that they are really learning. Some ways that IFSTA's Fire Service Instructor manual suggests that you can do this are:

  • You should have the student perform the task
  • Supervise them in the performance of the task
  • Check and correct errors
  • Check key points and safety points
  • Develop discussion
  • Conduct quizzes
  • Assign projects
  • Require note-taking
  • Assign problems

You must let the type of skill or knowledge determine your selection of application procedure. The use of a case student methodology in the ladder-raising arena would not be appropriate for a course in learning to raise and lower ladders. But a case student involving disciplinary actions might be an excellent way to training new fire lieutenants. Use a great deal of judgement in selecting the ways that you use for your students to apply their newly discovered knowledge. 

IFSTA's Fire Service Instructor manual tells us that you will have to evaluate the student's performance to see if a reasonably permanent change has been made in the behavior. This must be done for two reasons: 

  • To evaluate learning
  • To evaluate teaching

If you do not periodically asses what you are teaching and how it is being learned, you risk perpetuating bad educational practices. There are a number of techniques you can use in order to conduct an evaluation. Some of the ways suggested by Fire Service Instructor include:

  • Have learner perform jobs unassisted
  • Conduct manipulative performance tests
  • Ask prepared questions
  • Have learner observe and criticize others
  • Conduct examinations
  • Evaluate notebooks, projects, assignments, etc.

The goal here is to see whether what you taught is what the student now knows. Any combination of the above can be used to assess the level to which the performance of your students has been improved or enhanced. In those cases where short-comings are identified, steps must be taken to correct the problem. In some cases, you may be forced to return to the preparation step to ensure that the student has a full chance to assimilate the facts that have somehow been missed.

If you are to do the best possible job in preparing the next generation for their duties in the fire and emergency service world, you must subscribe to the three-step method of position maintenance. Remember that you are the occupant of the position you hold. You are a teacher for those who aspire to your level. lastly you are a student for the next higher level in your organization.

In order to claim educational success, you must be proactive in your approach to education. By this we mean that you must keep your knowledge base up-to-date by any combination of the following methods:

  • Read the fire and emergency services trade publications
  • Read a wide range of fire and emergency texts
  • Read a wide range of publications in the educational, political and general interest areas
  • Attend and participate in appropriate seminars
  • Attend and actively participate in local, county, state and national educational meetings
  • Join and actively participate in a minimum of one professional association

If you work at it, you might actually become good at teaching. 


This article was originally published in the Volume 30, Issue 10 (November 2001) of "The Voice"





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