November 16th, 2011



So with the promotion I got gradually over the past 6 months or so, one of my responsibilities, as of a month ago, is teaching a technical class to other folks in my department and 2 related departments. The proprietary system we all program in is really esoteric, with a bunch of strange and confusing aspects that have built up over the years. Newer features make more sense and are easier for people with programming backgrounds to understand, but they're still often complicated. Older features are just plain ridiculous. Those of us who have been here awhile have gotten used to these quirks, and were around for the creation of many of them, but the majority of folks in these 3 departments have been around for 2 years or less. So they gotta learn (and old timers may need refreshers), and classroom-style learning is an important component of that learning that was missing.

Now, I should point out that teaching kind of terrifies me. I imagine this is relatively common in the world at large, but not in my circles. For many of my friends, teaching Hebrew School or doing bar/t mitzvah tutoring is a good default part-time job to get if they need a little more money. Many of those same folks regularly give d'var torahs ("word of torah", basically a short teaching on a Jewish topic, often given during Shabbat services at places where a full-fledged sermon would be out of place) without it being an issue. They might teach 1-hour workshops or 6-hour (over 4 days) classes at learning-based Jewish retreats I go to. Not to mention the people employed full-time as teachers! I don't do any of those things; they all intimidate me a lot. Often I feel like I don't know enough to teach about anything. Often (especially when it comes to teaching kids) I know that I know enough, but I still worry about filling up the time, moving too fast, controlling the class (yes, less relevant for adults), and so on. It's a hard job, and I have a ton of respect for people who do it for a living.

Before last month, I've had 2 main teaching experiences in my life. Collapse )

Anyway. I was really nervous for the first class at work 3 weeks ago. The class existed in a previous incarnation years ago (taught by the people who were writing the system features, not those of us who design and implement their use), and one complaint I had was that the examples were under-prepared. So I went whole-hog, spending a good day and a half preparing what I was going to say and which examples (taken from our real code rather than made-up) I was going to use. I spent a ton of time on it and I was really nervous, even though it was all material I knew very well. And even though I was only teaching for half of the 1-hour block; my plan has been to have different people teach different topics.

So it went really well. As did the 2nd class (when I again taught about half the time) and the 3rd (where I planned the lesson but didn't teach at all). I started getting less nervous.

Yesterday was the 4th class, and I didn't spend as much time preparing. I think I was still prepared enough, but I also think the class went terribly. The concept I was teaching was much more complicated than I realized, and I lost people early on. I tried to make up for it by making it more interactive, calling on people to explain the next step rather than just explaining it myself. But the same few people (most of whom have been here for years, like me) kept volunteering to answer, and none of the new people were getting it at all. This may be the nature of the material, that they need to see and try it multiple times before it sinks in, but that's not what I anticipated happening at all. We all left frustrated, I'm sure, and now I'm worried again about next time.

This stuff is hard!

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