Wrap-Up: Two-Thirds Taught

Sergeant, what's your idea of a perfect Sunday?- Hot Fuzz

This Sunday I had my fourth installment of leading a young adult's group.

Practice, practice, practice is the key to confronting any nerves. I have great respect for teachers who do this every day - even more for substitute teachers who make it their living to hop between classes. Substitute teachers have a very small window of opportunity to build the rapport, for students to trust and take on board their lesson. It must take a very special sort of substitute who quickly bridges the divide.

I have a ritual before presenting wherein I'll write out what I want to say and read it to myself aloud. On the morning of the 'presentation', after getting as much rest as possible, I'll rehearse to myself in a mirror to see how freshly the key messages have preserved overnight.

I've yet to reach the point of confidence where I don't get at least five minutes of gut-churning anxiety that I'll say the wrong thing, forget key parts, deliver the lesson out of order and ultimately lead them down the garden path to forgetting why we started in the first place.

My adventures in teaching have taught me there are three components to doing it right, a CoDE if you will:

1) knowing your content, 2) knowing how to deliver it, and 3) knowing how to keep your audience engaged.

Number two and three are closely related. Your audience will play a large part in determining how you deliver it in a way they will find meaningful; take the example of Sunday.

Teenagers have a lot competing for their attention: media, school, family, friends, hormones, the list goes on. When you're that age, everything can seem dire, so I give them credit for serving up the full span of their attention on a morning that most teenagers would rather be sleeping.

The best way I can say 'thank you' is to deliver my lesson in a way that's easy to digest: I keep it conversational. I give them just enough context to understand the groundwork of what we're talking about. I phrase the concepts in plain English and do my best to sensibly link them together. Once you start losing the train of logic, you lose your audience, and the bridge between your minds starts breaking down; goodbye, engagement.

I fell down a little at this last step on Sunday, and I chalk it up to nerves; I want to get it right for my students, and these nerves can be dampened (if not completely done away) with confidence that comes from preparation. Sure, last week was busy, but so is every week - although it's only an hour out of my Sunday morning, the quality of our time together is important. By starting even one day earlier, that's an extra day I can let the lesson ferment in my mind. If I practice for seven hours straight at a last rush and botch the entire delivery in the span of a few minutes, then what's the point?

With teenagers, it's so easy for lessons to go in one ear and out the other, but if I can make even one student's life a little easier by one piece of parting advice, here or years down the line, I've done my job.

Certainly, that's worth an extra day's preparation.

Monday, 11 June 2012