There I was, on my first day in front of a training
room full of eager students – 10-20 year veterans of this particular company
and rock star programmers in their own right, ready to learn from some punk kid
with 15 years of web development experience about to teach it to folks who were
coding while I was in diapers. To say I was nervous is an understatement.
I straightened my carefully prepared lesson plan as
students sipped their coffee and mingled. Some anxiously flipped through the 500-page
book I’d provided for them; some caught up on their email. I took a breath and
started the class.
Hack Warning #1: If your instructor thinks you’re
just filling a seat, they might be a hack.
We did a quick introduction: who we are, what we
know, and what we hoped to get out of the class. I surreptitiously took notes
on each student’s name, skill level, and seat location, along with hair and eye
color and eyebrow shape just in case seating arrangements changed. By the time
introductions were finished, I’d memorized the names and approximate skill
level of nearly the entire room. It’s a neat party trick, but one that makes a
difference when someone with 25 years of C-programming experience points out a
slip of the tongue.
Hack Warning #2: If your instructor doesn’t care
why you’re in the class, they might be a hack.
Diving head-first into lesson material is a recipe
for failure, so I spent time getting to know the needs of the team, what they
were hoping to learn, and how I could best present the information for maximum
Hack Warning #3: If your instructor can’t change up
the lesson plan to meet your specific needs, they might be a hack.
I’d written their questions on the board, clarifying
and summarizing along the way. Four “Wish List” items in, and my syllabus went
out the door – and that’s okay. I build my lesson plans to be modular; this
group needed more information about a particular technology before we could get
into the part I thought would pique their excitement. I could shift a few
lessons – they’d still get the same knowledge, but they could start building
their project the next day rather than the next week.
Hack Warning #4: If your instructor can’t change
their instruction style to meet your specific needs, they might be a hack.
One of the new lesson examples I’d pulled from the
book for this particular group not only had a bug, three typos, and a missing
resource file, it had been copied over from an older version of the book. The
example was out of date and used the wrong methodologies.
The students discovered these problems after
working on the file for a full 20 minutes. Rather than succumb to frustration, I
changed the lesson on the fly: “Inherited Code isn’t Always in the Best Shape.”
Inherited code may use out-of-date methodologies, have bugs or typos. I asked
the class to share the best way to fix these problems. Each team took what we’d
learned and came up with a plan. The result? Five or 6 similar solutions designed
to correct the code and bring it up to date, integrating the knowledge they’d
learned earlier in the class.
Hack Warning #5: If your instructor can’t think on
their feet and turn problems into learning opportunities, they might be a hack.
Bottom line: every instructor has a personal
teaching style – but experience in the subject matter doesn’t automatically
translate into experience in teaching on the subject.
So, what do you do if you suspect your instructor
is a hack?
Don’t belittle your teacher.
They probably have a ridiculous amount of knowledge;
it’s not always easy to transfer that knowledge to someone else. Give your
instructor a break if something goes wrong, if the lesson plan doesn’t match up
to the example, or if they inherited instructional material from another
instructor (which is almost worse than inherited code).
Make targeted curriculum suggestions.
Prep a list of questions you’d like to have your
instructor answer from that day’s lessons.
- “I’d really like to learn more about….”
- “Could you go more in depth on…?”
- “Can we have a little more time on this exercise?”
Get to know your instructor personally.
Teaching can be a lonely job; we’re often new to
town, haven’t met anyone we’re about to spend the next week with, and may have
45 minutes of free time each night (or less, depending on potential syllabus
changes). Lunch and hourly breaks are perfect opportunities to get to know your
instructor and make them feel more comfortable.