The Professional Instructor: Tenet #4.
This is an entry in my multi-part exploration of the “Code Of The Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor”. If you missed the opening article of this series, which has some background and a link to the Rob Pincus article where the Code was originally published, click here to read it.
"I will encourage my students to ask questions about course material, and I will answer them with thorough and objective explanations."
This is my favorite of all the Tenets, mainly because it's one of my "hot button" issues. I’ve experienced first hand what happens when an instructor doesn’t follow this, and can tell stories about many more that I’ve observed. I'm sure you know folks like this, too.
It's actually very easy to discourage students from asking questions! Think back to when you were in college: how eager were you to ask, in front of people you barely knew, what might be seen as a 'stupid' question? Anything that the student perceives as being dismissive of their questions, or worse belittling of their state of knowledge, will put a damper not just on their desire for clarification - but the rest of the class as well.
In order to encourage students to ask questions, it's imperative to make sure that the environment is conducive to inquiry. Every student needs to feel comfortable asking any pertinent question, and moreover it's important to always prompt for those questions. The students need to know that they can ask even the most probing questions about the material without being made to feel that they're unworthy.
A contributor to that kind of atmosphere are the answers which are given. Answers need to be complete and based on fact, logic, and reason. Too often I've seen instructors give the flimsiest answers to even simple questions, using flawed logic (all too often Appeal To Authority), unsupported conjecture, and incomplete or out of date evidence. An answer should never rest on what someone else says or what the instructor's personal preference might be. Neither of those is factual or objective. There should be a good reason - preferably several - for every answer that's given.
The very worst situation is when questions are answered with dogmatic sound bites: pithy statements that contain no fact at all, but designed to be memorable and boost the instructor's ego. In one of the first classes I took, many years ago, the instructor had a particular stance he wanted the students to use. When asked (not by me - I was too intimidated!) why he didn't use another specific stance, he barked "because it's not a FIGHTING stance." That was the end of the discussion as far as he was concerned! There was no reason behind the statement, no definition of just what "fighting" meant or how it was determined or who determined it, just a sneer delivered with the kind of body language that signaled no further inquiry would be allowed.
That is the polar opposite of what this tenet aims to promote.
Student questions, to be sure, are dangerous because they can quickly expose an instructor’s weaknesses. If he doesn’t really know the material, why he’s teaching it, and how it fits into his student’s lives, any but the most superficial questions will reveal his lack of knowledge to the class. Remember when I said Tenet #2 was critical to adopting the tenets which follow? This is a perfect example of why! Discouraging questions isn’t just a sign of poor communication skills; it may be an indication that the instructor really doesn’t know himself why his material is important.
The professional gives the students plenty of opportunity to ask questions. He maintains an atmosphere in which discourse about the topics is not only allowed, but encouraged on a continual basis (once at the beginning of class isn't enough!) The answers to all questions are respectful of both the material and the student, and are based on provable and supportable facts - never opinions or sound bites.
-=[ Grant ]=-