Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Those that teach?

Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. (I believe George Bernard Shaw is responsible)

I've mentioned this phrase once before on this blog, on a post for the now sadly defunct Handover Carnival. I despise the phrase. Mostly because I come from a family of teachers. Some of my best friends are teachers. Some of my best teachers are friends. I accidentally came across a teachers' forum where suggested responses to this outrageous phrase ranged from the dirty look to the violent retort. Easily my favourite, however, was one clever comeback: 

Those who can, do; Those who can teach, do wonders. 

As the third in the series of suggestions and advice, particularly to the newer generations of EMS staff, I'd like to focus just a little on the idea of teaching. Personally, I woke up to it a little bit late. I'd always put the training department at the back of my mind as a possible fall-back option for when my time on the road had taken too much of a toll on my back. Planning ahead, I knew I could always rely on experience to teach newer generations of paramedics. But at the start of the career, that fall-back seemed a long way off. 

After a few years, the system changed drastically and meant that students were spending a great deal more time out on the road with experienced staff. This meant that there were now more opportunities to stay on the road and teach at the same time. I jumped at the chance, but no one jumped in the same direction, allegedly because none of the students liked the idea of working only nights. Eventually, one mug fool student picked up the gauntlet and gave it a go. Others followed.

The thing I discovered instantly, was that in order to teach, I needed to be a lot more alert to every single thing I did. The questions could fly thick and fast. What did you just do? How did you do that? And the scariest of the lot: Why did you just do that?

The questions weren't being asked to test me, but it sure felt like it sometimes. My skills had to be razor sharp, as did my knowledge. Most of all, I spent a great deal of time learning as well as teaching. Never being afraid to admit that I don't always have the answers was part of the deal. 

I held a diary in my uniform pocket at all times. At the back, were two sets of notes. One set was a list of calls, brief notes and mini-reminders of people and cases I met that I would then write about. The other set had a title at the top of the page: Homework. My homework, not what I set for my student. When an answer to one of their questions included the phrase I don't know, it was time for another line on the homework page. 

There was also another strand of teaching. Teaching friends, relatives, even the general public. Teaching about the ambulance service itself, teaching the basics of first aid, teaching the skills that could one day make the difference between life and death. Even simpler - teaching when and why to call an ambulance.

Teaching is all about knowledge. It's about having the skills to take that knowledge and impart it to others. It's about having the courage and the awareness to know that you can never know it all. It's about constantly making the effort to bridge those gaps that are missing. 

The thing I discovered about teaching is that it is easily the best learning tool out there. 

So go teach. Find something you're good at and teach it to someone. Or, alternatively, find something that you're not so good at, study it enough so that you'll know that if anyone asks, you can teach that too. 

Those that can't do, teach? Pah. Those who can teach, do wonders. 


Andy in Germany said...

Ironic that this should come up on here now. I decided a few months ago that I'd try and learn to be am EMT, partly because of blogs like this. I'd held off befroe because every teacher of First Aid I'd come scross while in the UK was a bully and I didn't want to have to deal with that again.

In Germany I found a different kind of first aider: the normal teacher who could relate to people without bullying them. So I started getting the paperwork together and organising myself. Not sure which of those proved most chellenging, and went on a short course to see hwhat the teacher was like there, and found him friendly and encouraging.

So I applied for an EMT course, packed my bags, went to the college and found...
Another bully.

I left after a week of being shouted at and watching other people getting shouted at. I couldn't learn, couldn't think: it wasn't worth it. The cincher was when the teacher reduced an experienced EMT on a refresher course to tears by shouting and bullying them repeatedly, so I came home.

Now I've got an opportunity for two weeks practical experience and a chance to learn to be a first responder for free, with the possibility of learning to be an EMT later.

I want to do it, as much as I ever did, but I couldn't build myself up to calling the hospital this morning. It's annoying and depressing, but that teacher messed me up more than I thought.

Those who can teach, do wonders. Those who can't teach, really have a lot to answer for.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Andy, you are so right and I am so sorry that you have been abused and frightened by a jerk who is scared of his/her own shadow...

Try to forge ahead-EMT skills will give you such a great background for life and its inherent problems. Make that one call and see how it goes. Perhaps hang around the ER for a bit one afternoon and chat up a few of the friendlier faces there. Read lots of blogs; meet the rest of the industry and realize that you'll be with lots of different people over the course of your career in this field.

hilinda said...

It is nearly epidemic that people believe that if someone is going at doing a thing, they are also good at teaching a thing.
Teaching is an entirely different skill set.
For starters, you must be able to focus both internally and externally, which is a challenge. In addition a teacher needs to understand various ways of learning, and be able to tailor information for whichever of those ways a particular student needs at that time. Add to that, the ability to give timely, meaningful positive feedback, and the ability to do all of this while inspiring and encouraging students.
A good teacher never stops learning.

Just because someone is called a teacher doesn't mean they are one.

InsomniacMedic said...

Andy - that all sounds horrendous. Bullying is unacceptable in all forms and at all ages. In this case it sounds almost like those who were trying to teach were either scared of their own lack of knowledge, or just using it as a power trip. Possibly both. I'm sorry you experienced it, but still think that you shouldn't give up. Hilinda is right - not everyone who teaches is a teacher, you need to find the person who has the right characteristics as described.
Lynda also has the right idea. Fight for it a little. You're guaranteed to find who and what works for you. Most educators in the EMS field (at least I'd like to hope so, anyway) are educators because they have the knowledge to pass on. There are rotten apples everywhere - go find the good stuff. And good luck.

Thanks all for your comments.

Paul said...

Discovered while at college I may have done more than I thought, while a student I also helped some of the local school kids using the mainframe.
30 years later one has got in touch on Facebook thanking me for the teaching (I didn't know I was doing) and his subsequent I.T. career. We're meeting up for a few beers on the weekend soon.

Lydia said...

Just recently, I've been helping to teach some new people how to operate some of our equipment and systems onboard. I've discovered that (1) I'm pretty good at it, (2) teaching them helps me solidify and organize my own knowledge, and (3) their questions and fresh eyes have been useful in pointing some issues out to me that I hadn't noticed before. It's win-win for all involved.