Friday, June 23, 2023

The Techniques of Teaching: The three major issues encountered during teaching


Let's start with an example. As a company manager, one day your boss hands you a task: "For the new employee training next month, could you teach a 90-minute course on time management, so the newcomers can adopt good work attitudes like you?"

Faced with such a teaching task, even with a month to prepare, whether you're a corporate manager, a schoolteacher, or a professional speaker, you'll immediately encounter three major issues in teaching: teaching experience, student attitudes, and environmental disruptions. Let's examine these issues one by one.

First: Teaching Experience - The Teacher's Challenge.

There's a vast difference between "you are able to do it" and "teaching others to do it." Many people believe that teaching simply involves talking through what they know. But when viewed from the students' perspective, does hearing the teacher's explanation equate to learning the material? Can they concentrate during the learning process? How can they apply what they've learned afterward? Converting familiar content into teachable material might not be as simple as just talking it through. There might be many elements of teaching design and techniques to consider.

For instance, you might have to ponder: Who are your students? What are their needs? What problems do they have? How should you structure your teaching process? Which teaching techniques should you employ? What kind of media or materials should you use for presentation? Do you need to divide the content into sections or segments? Should there be breaks? How can you maintain the learners' attention continuously? How should lecturing balance with other teaching methods? These are all considerations that may be needed when planning a course.

However, with so much to consider, educators might not necessarily have the necessary experience. Perhaps you are teaching this course for the first time, or only teach a few times a year (professional speakers might teach 3-4 days a week). Without sufficient teaching experience, it is unlikely to be smooth sailing on the stage. Yet, if you're too experienced, it could lead to another problem: it is common to fall into the trap of excessive lecturing, with teachers repetitively sharing knowledge or experiences on stage! While this might seem like the most efficient teaching method for the teacher, it doesn't necessarily lead to effective learning outcomes. The reason being we're about to encounter the next problem: the issue of students' learning attitudes.

Second: Learning Attitude - The Student's Problem

If you've ever stood on stage to deliver a lesson, you'll understand that the attitude of the students is another complex issue you'll confront.

Let me illustrate with my own experience: For a while, I was teaching regular monthly classes at a highly reputable listed company, handling about 10-15 batches annually. Classes were scheduled to start at 9:00 AM, but typically, only about 10-20% of the students arrived on time, with others trickling in one by one, some even with breakfast in hand. We usually kicked off the course around 9:15 AM. Looking out at the crowd, I would see:

Some were propping their heads up, some were crossing their arms, some were eating, some were on their laptops, and some were flipping through the handouts. The most outrageous cases involved students who turned 90 degrees away, completely ignoring the stage! The sentiment in the room could be best summed up as, "I really don't want to be here! Just get on with the class!" And yes, this was the morning scenario at one of Taiwan's most prominent companies!

Eventually, after deploying a variety of teaching techniques to engage the students, I seized the opportunity during a break to ask, "Why did you all seem so unhappy at the start of the class?" The students, somewhat helplessly, replied: "I was on duty until 7 this morning, and had to rush here right after my shift,""We've been swamped for the past month. Attending classes takes away from my work time,""After class, I have to work overtime to catch up,""I've attended many training sessions in the past, but not all have been helpful,""I was assigned by my boss to attend, due to company policy,""I didn't know you before, so how could I know if your teaching would be helpful?"

These candid answers, though unvoiced at first, reveal that students are unlikely to be fully engaged from the start.

This isn't only true for corporations. Would the situation be any better in an academic environment?

Recently, I taught a 3-hour course at one of Taiwan's top national universities. At the start, I noticed quite a few students showing signs of disinterest or resistance. This was an elective course, very popular, and slots were available only through competition. Yet, even in this setting, some students showed lackluster enthusiasm at the onset. This doesn't even begin to cover the normal teaching scenario! (I believe many educators can relate.)

Along with the issue of insufficient motivation among students, teachers face another big challenge: battling environmental distractions for students' attention.

Third: Environmental Distractions - The Smartphone Problem

We're living in the era of smartphones, which pose the next teaching challenge: distraction!

While a teacher is lecturing on stage, it takes only a brief lapse into boredom or a slight tilt towards one-way communication for students to whip out their smartphones. Regaining students' attention or keeping them focused then becomes the next uphill battle.

Of course, there are learning environments where smartphones are strictly prohibited. However, this rule isn't universal and presents a host of potential issues (safekeeping of devices, replying to urgent messages, student resistance, etc.). When teachers are in competition with smartphones for students' attention, they're often on the losing end. Even if students aren't constantly glued to their screens, casual glances and quick replies severely undermine the effectiveness of the lesson. This might not have been such a serious problem a decade or so ago, but in today's classrooms, it's a pressing issue.

For internal corporate training, other disturbances like computers, work interruptions, replying to emails or phone calls all compete for students' attention and disrupt the rhythm of the class. Amidst these high-frequency external disruptions, delivering a successful course becomes a significant challenge.


Though the trifecta of teaching experience, student attitudes, and environmental disruptions - issues emanating from teachers, students, and devices such as smartphones or computers - invariably presents challenges in teaching, they can indeed be overcome!

In the case of teaching at the high-tech company mentioned above, while initial enthusiasm may not have been high, we were always able to swiftly capture the students' attention and spark their engagement as soon as the course began! At the end of the course, we received top or near-top ratings from students (a score of 4.9-5.0 on a 5-point scale, the highest in the company's history). As for the listless university students, we were always able to adjust rapidly, shift their mood, and engage them in active learning, resulting in highly satisfactory and impactful learning experiences.

Let's put it this way: Professional athletes have their unique, little-known secrets for handling the problems they encounter, and so do we, the educators. These professional "teaching Know-Hows" are, of course, what we are going to share next in our segment on "The Techniques of Teaching"!


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