We have looked at several essentials of a good instructor in part 1 and 2 of this mini-series; in this wrap-up we examine the rest of our list of instructional qualities as well as the challenges of a great teacher.
I believe that an instructor must always have a “mission based sense of achievement”. The goal is to change the lives of our students perhaps in only a small way, perhaps in large ways. It might be as simple a mission as changing how a QuickBooks user posts transactions, or it might be as profound as migrating a client from desktop to the cloud (a whole new way of thinking). Quality instructors have a clear understanding of what their students’ objectives and goals are, and thus what they as the instructor must accomplish in order to insure the student reaches those goals. At the core of teaching are accomplished students whose ‘mission is complete with goals achieved’, that is the art of instruction which professional educators strive for every day, hour and moment of instruction.
In my first article I discussed ‘knowledge of the subject matter’, but there is an essential component of that knowledge and that is ‘contextual application’. Every subject no matter how general or specific, no matter how technical or generic, have a context. It is the relationship between the theory and the practical, between the technique and the implementation. The context is what ‘ties it together’ from classroom to real-life for your students. One famous saying teaches, “Context is everything…we must ground our work in a rich understanding of the context of use, or else we run the risk of creating well meaning rubbish.”
Teaching debits and credits is one of the most awkward fundamentals in all of accounting, and many accounting students fail because the instructor fails in this essential quality of being able to teach their students the ‘contextual application’ of the principles. While modern accounting software has gone a long way in posting the debits and credits for us, it is still fundamental that everyone performing accounting-type tasks have the essentials, yet we tend to focus on the keystrokes and the interpretation as opposed to the basics that make it all work. ProAdvisors as Instructors must do a better job in applying the context of accounting to the software they are instructing when it comes to teaching your clients the fundamentals.
There are a whole list of what I term the ‘mechanics of instruction’ that every good teacher/instructor should know. These are skills such as planning, organization, and implementation. We could probably publish an separate article on each of these, but I will simply summarize them for purposes of this text.
Instructors must be able to plan, which at the very least includes developing lesson plans that are more than a course syllabus. They must be able to build lessons that not only cover the basics but also provide the time and opportunities students need to properly absorb the material concepts.
Organization is the ability to not only organize the subject matter so that all the students benefit from the presentation, but organize in such a way that the concept of ‘contextual application’ is maximized throughout the instructional period. In my way of thinking it is far better that students leave with a few applied goals accomplished in a real world context than hundreds of concepts they have no idea how to make use of.
Implementation is the instructor’s skill in taking their plan and organizational intent and putting it into practice every time they present a lesson. One of the greatest aids in implementation is an instructor’s “enthusiasm.”
Enthusiasm is probably the most ‘contagious’ quality an instructor can have, if they are enthusiastic about the subject, about each of their students, and about ‘contextual application’ nothing can stop or interrupt the presentation. Certainly some isolated problem like a projector bulb that blows out in mid-session, or a microphone that fails, can impact your class, but you shouldn’t let it destroy your enthusiasm. No matter what, if you have the energy your students will feel that energy and you as an instructor are much more likely to accomplish the goals your students are seeking. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm.”, but let me say that enthusiasm is not the same thing as ‘flashiness’, or ‘flamboyance’, or ‘extrovertedness’, enthusiasm is genuine love for student and subject that goes well beyond such behavior.
Years ago there was first a novel, then a movie, and finally a television series all called ‘The Paper Chase1’ which tells the story of a first year law student who encounters a most demanding professor of contract law named ‘Kingsfield’. In both the movie and TV series Professor Kingsfield was portrayed by a seasoned character actor named ‘John Houseman’ (shown in a scene from the movie below). In reality I think to everyone who ever saw his performances, including Houseman himself, he was ‘Kingsfield’, the very personification of “the man” the book had so well described.
Kingsfield was known to be the toughest professor at the Harvard Law School, in part because he used the ‘Socratic Method2’ of instruction. The Socratic Method teaches by using a series of questions; the professor asks a question, and no matter what answer he gets, there is always the next question, related to the first only as it is applicable to the answer given. It becomes a learning tree, a decision tool for ruling-in or ruling-out the correct answer. (If any of this sounds a lot like the ‘differential diagnosis’ theory I have taught in the past for QuickBooks problems, it is the same principle.)
The fundamental ‘principle of Kingsfield’ was this, “You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush; you leave thinking like a lawyer.”
In reality that is the role of any great instructor, teacher or professor, no matter what the subject. Our job is to train the minds of our students (in any setting) so as to mold a ‘skull full of mush’ such that they leave as masters of the subject they have come to learn.
So I ask you, are you ready to step into the role of ‘teaching like a Kingsfield?’
1 - The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn, Jr., 1970, published by Peninsula Road Press.
2 - Socratic Method, also know as Socratic debate or the method of Elenchus, meaning 'critical thinking' is based after the teaching style of the classical Greek philosopher Socrates.