EMS Revisited is an exclusive column that offers reprints of various columns and articles from our archives that are not currently available in electronic format. This article first appeared in the July 2001 issue of EMS Magazine.
You enter to find that the coffee is gone, the copier is down again and the dry-erase markers are dried out. The first words you hear are, "What time are we getting out of here today?" So begins the day of the EMS educator.
EMS educators are a special breed. They are called upon to teach to a diverse group of adult learners. Some of these learners are young adults aspiring to new careers in EMS or the fire service. Some are current EMS providers elevating their levels of certification. Finally, there is the "captive" audience of seasoned providers assembled to meet their continuing-education requirements.
This last group is perhaps the most challenging for an EMS educator--it is difficult to face a roomful of veterans who are there because they have to be. Collectively, this group poses the question (sometimes silently, sometimes aloud): "What can you tell me that I haven't heard before?"
After spending a few years as both a student and an educator, I have come to believe that there are certain truths about great EMS instruction. Some people call them "pearls" because they are hard to find, and even one is worth a fortune. In this article, you will read this educator's opinion on the top 20 pearls of great EMS instruction.
1) The Best Way to Teach a Great Class Is to Teach a Lot of Classes. Babe Ruth is remembered for his home runs, not his strikeouts. He had a lot of both. Get in the game. Make every teaching opportunity a learning experience. Experiment with something different and see how it works. Start by captivating your audience. Suppose you're asked to present to a group of experienced EMS providers who are there only because they have to be. If you attempt to baffle them with BS, they will eat you alive. Although they may be skeptical that you have anything new to offer, they will usually give you a fair shot at it before attacking. Show them that you have something worth hearing and do it early. If you can hook them in the beginning, they will listen and learn. They might even thank you. It could happen!
2) Recognize the Unique Characteristics of Adult Learners. Adults learn differently. They are different from other learners and even each other. They bring life experience to the classroom and use it to measure the truth and value of what you say. Adults are generally eager to share their experience. Recognize and respect the collective learning and experience of your audience. Together, a roomful of adult students has almost certainly outlived, outlearned and outearned their instructor. Use this experience to enrich the class.
3) Be a Content Expert. You must have a thorough knowledge of your content area. This is perhaps even more important when working with inexperienced students. Inexperienced students tend to believe what you tell them. They don't have the benefit of experience to evaluate an instructor's merit. If you try to fake it in front of the veterans, they will probably humiliate you for wasting their time.
4) Competence Breeds Confidence. If you teach your students well, they will develop the confidence needed to survive in a tough profession. Let them know mistakes are expected in class; that's how learning takes place. Try letting your students evaluate you on the next skill you will test them on. Students have a tremendous respect for instructors who are willing to risk making mistakes in front of them. Remember, they do it in front of you all the time.
5) Set Expectations High. This applies to both you and your students. Students tend to live up (or down) to your expectations. If you're giving students your best effort, why would you ask for anything less from them? You should be the first one there and the last one gone. The students shouldn't be turning the lights on and getting the coffee started for you. Walk in prepared every day. Demonstrate your ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. These are the very things you expect from them, right?