Teaching and Engineering

As many of you know, I have been studying to be a teacher the past two years after working for a very long time as an engineer.

I have been subbing (an absolutely terrifying experience for the first 80 or so classes, but, especially the first) for 2 years.  I then started Project IMPACT (a credentialing program) on Monday and Weds nights (an absolutely terrific experience) where I am, formally, learning so much about teaching and learning.

Last September and October (2008) I was teaching a 7th grade Math and Core class. That experience was your typical sink or swim experience….it was both terrifying and terrific, but, I learned sooo much.  Hey, that is what I like to do….learn.

So why am I writing this in a “Technical” Blog?  Well there are lessons I am learning as a teacher that would have been very valuable to me (and others) had I learned them at the beginning of my engineering career (rather than at the end).

Sooooooo……for those of you who are just starting out, or are in the middle of, your engineering / technical careers,  here is a  list of the  top 5 things I have learned, or am still learning, as a teacher that could help you.

5. Working Collaboratively is Very Effective

As an Engineer I was a soloist.  I designed alone, I put the breadboard together alone (preferring to do it myself rather than involve a tech).  I worked with others only when I had to.

What I have learned as a teacher is that group efforts are extremely valuable, as long as they are done correctly.  In class I arranged the seating so there were groups of 4 or 6 students per group.  In those groups the dynamics were outstanding and the students learned and learned to love learning.

If I were to do my career over…I’d be more open to collaborating with others.

4. You learn more by teaching a subject

As a teacher you have to really understand the concept before you can teach it.  And if you do not know it inside and out, the students will help you to understand it.

As an engineer, you will learn a lot more if you present your ideas as often as you can to your colleagues.  Hopefully, they will have questions that will force you to learn even more.

3. People learn in different ways

IMPACT has taught me that there are multiple ways people learn:  verbal / linguistic, logical / mathmatical, visual / spatial, Bodily / Kinesthetic, Naturalistic, Muscial, Internpersonal, and Intrapersonal.

Knowing this when I was in engineering would have prepared me to better explain the design, concepts, theories, etc to people with different learning styles.

As a blogger you see that I try to include the written word, diagrams, video, and audio as much as possible.

2. Organization

My organization skills as a young engineer were not as good as they could have been.   The computer helps, but, I still find myself occasionally mired in a mess thus losing time and flow in the process.  Developing a presentation that makes sense from beginning to end is an organizational skill, that I grapple with all the time.

As a teacher you are forced to organize a mountain of paper and an encyclopedia of information on a daily basis.  Developing lesson plans from beginning to end demands great organizational skills.  In IMPACT, they teach you how to develop a lesson plan and how to think through the process.   I had to learn those type of  skills on the job as an engineer.

The experience gained from organizing a lesson,  or the daily paperwork and information,  as a teacher would have helped me greatly as an engineer.  I am still learning.

1. Public Speaking

I only wish I had the experience of standing in front of a class of thirty-two 8th graders before I had to give presentations to an audience of colleagues at a conference, or in a conference room.

There is no crowd tougher than 8th graders (hmmmm, for that matter, kindergarten thru 12th graders….).

If you want to get really good at public speaking…volunteer to speak in front of an 8th grade class, or two.  All your other speaking engagements will be easy after that!

Conclusion

It might be interesting / productive if engineering courses could include some education classes in the requirements.  🙂

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