Chapter 4. The Teaching Process

What Is Teaching?

Teaching is to instruct or train someone, or the profession of someone who teaches. Someone who teaches is, of course, a teacher or, for the purposes of this handbook, an instructor. Measured in number of people in the profession, teaching is one of the world’s largest professions. To be a teacher implies one has completed some type of formal training, has specialized knowledge, has been certified or validated in some way, and adheres to a set of standards of performance. Defining a “good instructor” has proven more elusive, but in The Essence of Good Teaching (1985), psychologist Stanford C. Ericksen wrote “good teachers select and organize worthwhile course material, lead students to encode and integrate this material in memorable form, ensure competence in the procedures and methods of a discipline, sustain intellectual curiosity, and promote how to learn independently.”

Essential Teaching Skills

Much research has been devoted to trying to discover what makes a “good” or effective instructor. This research has revealed that effective instructors come in many forms, but they generally possess four essential teaching skills: people skills, subject matter expertise, management skills, and assessment skills. [Figure 4-1]

People Skills

People skills are the ability to interact, talk, understand, empathize, and connect with people. Effective instructors relate well to people. Communication, discussed in Chapter 3, Effective Communication, underlies people skills. It is important for instructors to remember:

  • Technical knowledge is useless if the instructor fails to communicate it effectively.
  • The two-way process of effective communication means actively listening to the student, as well as teaching him or her.

In the previous scenario, Bob uses the guided group discussion period to listen to his students discuss the weight and balance problem. By listening to their discussion and questions, he can pinpoint problem areas and explain them more fully during the review of the solved problem.

People skills also include the ability to interact respectfully with students, pick up when students are not following along, motivate students to learn, and adapt to the needs of the student when necessary. Another important people skill used by effective instructors is to challenge students intellectually while supporting their efforts to learn. Effective instructors also display enthusiasm for their subject matter and express themselves clearly. The willingness to look for ways to match student learning styles to personal instructional style is another element of effective instruction.

Subject Matter Expertise

A subject matter expert (SME) is a person who possesses a high level of expertise, knowledge, or skill in a particular area. For example, the instructor in the opening scenario is an aviation maintenance SME.

Effective instructors are not only knowledgeable about aviation, they are also knowledgeable about teaching. As mentioned earlier, possession of a high level of technical knowledge does not equate to the ability to teach it. An effective instructor possesses a strong motivation to teach, as well as a positive attitude toward learning. Research into how people learn has been ongoing for almost one hundred years. This handbook is a compilation of that research and is designed to help aviation instructors become experts in the field of education.

Effective instructors have a sincere interest in learning and professional growth. There are a number of professional development opportunities for aviation instructors, such as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seminars, industry conventions, professional organizations, and online classes. Networking with and observing other instructors to learn new strategies is also helpful. By being a lifelong learner, the aviation professional remains current in both aviation and education. This topic is explored more thoroughly in Chapter 9, Professional Development.

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