Learning in traditional passive, highly structured classroom environments didn’t work for my learning style. As a result, I got lost in the classroom, in the pipeline based learning system, and almost lost my desire to push myself to achieve any measurable educational success.
It took many painful setbacks and failures before I discovered a method to make learning meaningful for me. These needless delays in my realized academic potential could have been prevented with direct intervention from my teachers or other administrative staff. This is one of the reasons that real-time “teachable moments” are leveraged in my classrooms. This approach allows for individual training, but also provides an opportunity for knowledge transfer to other students, too.
A “teachable moment” is a real-time identification that there’s an opportunity for an individual or organizational lesson. In my classes, I immediately address an action or behavior that requires correction as close to the occurrence as possible. This information is shared (if appropriate) in the classroom to allow every student a chance to benefit from the information exchange. However, it’s important to note that my operating principal is to never intentionally embarrass or humiliate any student, along with always remembering to “praise in public, punish in private.”
As an educator, I’ve had numerous successes and moments of enlightenment while teaching; although, there wasn’t a specific encounter with a student that moved me in a manner that elicited a deep emotion... at least until this semester (Fall 2016).
During my classes, my business students complete several speaking assignments. This can be a challenge for students who are nervous, afraid, or uncomfortable with giving a presentation. This was certainly the case for one of my students in particular.
My mythological student – Nick Anderson – is a nice young man who wants to learn. However, early in the semester, he didn’t appear to be comfortable participating in my interactive class discussions. Nick’s lack of confidence with his public speaking skills was even more evident whenever he stood in front of the class. While presenting, Nick’s body became tense and he would stare at the ceiling as if he was systematically constructing sentences while he spoke.
After his presentation, I asked if I could provide him with input that would improve his future presentations --- and without hesitation he agreed. I started by asking, “Did you prepare; do you know your material; did you do your best?” Nick’s answers were “Yes!” to these questions. Then, I said, “If you’re prepared and know your material... why are you concerned?” Before he responded, I said, “If you did your best --- even if it’s not your best today --- than that’s the best you can do.” Additionally, I told him, “Don’t try to make significant changes to your presentation while delivering it; wait until later to make corrections.”
The next time Nick presented, I immediately noticed a difference. He was very confident, self-assured, and projected his voice. Another indicator of marked improvement was that he began with opening comments that brought me into his presentation similar to a seasoned speaking professional. As I watched the results of an amazing transformation, I started to smile with fatherly pride. Shortly thereafter, my feelings turned into joyful emotion that I barely controlled. After he completed his presentation, I was overcome with emotions. I was admittedly shocked, overwhelmed, and elated that with minimal guidance Nick used my input to become a confident speaker. This was the first time in over 8 years of teaching that a student got me emotional in this way.
It was this moment that solidified the reasons that I’m an educator. It’s simply to have personal moments with students that convert normal educational experiences into extraordinary outcomes for themselves and others. Teaching my students isn’t about memorization and regurgitation; it’s about training students to discover their voice, think critically, and improve their willingness to engage in self-expression. Notwithstanding, my greatest happiness and joy is derived from helping to encourage, inspire, and develop my students in a way that wasn’t often done for me --- during too many missed opportunities to keep me actively engaged in the process of learning.
As a former opportunity (at-risk) student, I have a heightened interest, responsibility, and willingness to make personal connections with my students to create meaningful, purposeful, and lasting learning moments. Simply put... I want to make a positive difference beyond a short-term learning focus to drive long-term oriented, actionable results.
Note: Nick Anderson’s name is used in this article with his written permission.
Information about Mr. Young’s journey to overcome his educational challenges is detailed in his book “Above Expectations – My Story: an unlikely journey from almost failing high school to becoming a college professor”.
Obtain information about Mr. Young's work to give-back and inspire at-risk communities: www.slyoung.com/inspired.html
award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host