Open valve, let off steam.

Open valve, let off steam.

To be honest, this is the place I come to let off steam, vent, rant or otherwise pontificate. Just so you know.

Today’s rant is about all the helpful people I have run across lately. The story goes like this: You get into something new and inevitably, you have questions. So, you start asking people already involved in the field you are interested in.

Many are quick to offer advice, and most of it is totally useless. Turns out, they know less about it than you do, so why are they the first ones to shoot their mouths off about something they are ignorant about? Why don’t the people who DO truly have knowledge in the field come forward? You know they are out there and that they are listening. I think the answers are many.

Now I’m no professor of psychology but I have been around the block a few times. This I do profess: Lots of folks love to hear themselves talk. It doesn’t matter if they know less about a subject than you do. Perhaps they feel like you know nothing if you are asking them for answers. You know, that might even be a reasonable assumption on their part. Truly though, I’ve been amazed at the lack of knowledge from those offering advice.

Quite often, those offering advice do not even address the question that was asked. They simply start telling you about whatever they wish to tell you. That’s a waste of everybody’s time. Hey, if you don’t know the answer, that’s fine. I’ll respect you more for being honest than for shooting me a line of bull.

So what about those who are in the know? I’ve come to believe that at some point they get tired of trying to get everyone else up to speed. I say that because I have experienced that very feeling. It may have been an arduous journey for them, and to ask them to travel it all over again may be unreasonable. We all have to pace ourselves and control our lives. You will end up tired, worn out and cynical if you give too much of yourself. Maybe if you are a professional football player who gets burned out in three years, but gets paid vast sums of money to do so it could make sense. For most of us, you have to keep some of yourself for yourself. So then, maybe the folks with savvy are just holding back because they have to. I can handle that.

There’s another type though who does know what he or she is talking about, and unloads ALL of it on you in short order. Within that type there might be sub-types, one being the sub-type who wishes to impress you with their knowledge. It could also be that they wish to impress themselves with their knowledge. Perhaps there is even a third sub-type who gives you the knowledge they want you to have, setting you up to do things their way.

I may have been guilty of some or all of these gaffes, but I do not think that I know it all. It doesn’t take long to run across someone who really does know more than me. Throughout life I have found it more pleasing to learn a little about a lot than to learn a lot about a little. I’m not a big fish in a small pool. I’m a small fish in a big pool, but I can go from one part of the pool to another with some amount of ease.

Over the past few years though, I have been involved in a rather small technical field. Sometimes it gives a person satisfaction to garner more knowledge than most in some area. I have even been called a ‘guru’ in this field, but that’s simply not true. But yeah, it was satisfying for a moment. On a weekly basis I present a tutorial related to this field to a small group of other aficionados. The feeling I get is that they think I am well-educated. The truth is: the education comes from the research necessary to present the tutorial and the thought that goes into the presentation.

After many wasted years, it eventually occurred to me that whenever I had trouble picking up a subject, it was generally because I did not understand the basics. Yes, the basics. You’ve got to have a foundation to build your knowledge upon. Many instructors skip over the basics. I’ll admit that there have been plenty of times I had to come from behind because I had not mastered the basics.

Therefore, in my tutorials, I make a concerted effort to not only cover the basics, but to draw it all together at the end. It’s a three-part system: Here’s what you are going to learn, here’s the material and here’s how it all fits together. It’s not a problem if you don’t catch on at first because, you can go back to the beginning and read it all again. If I have done my job right, eventually it will make sense. The only question is (and this is where I can sympathize with those instructors who leave out the basics): How much of a knowledge base do your students have to begin with? That will describe what the ‘basics’ really are. This means the basics for one person may be different than the basics for another.

Now, if I still am not catching on, it is up to me to go backwards and start filling in those knowledge gaps. It can be like searching in the dark with a flashlight, but that’s what you have to do. I make myself available for questions after my tutorials, but then, sometimes the students (if you want to call them that) don’t know what questions to ask. Again, this is a hint for you as a teacher, to craft your lesson in a fashion that helps the student out by anticipating their questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I answered a question a student didn’t know how to ask.

I want to be a good teacher but as I already said, I am learning in the process of teaching. If you are not learning from your students, you are not a good teacher. Every good teacher knows that each person learns in a different manner than the next. Your ability to reach as many as possible rates you as a teacher. Your willingness to learn each student rates you as a teacher. The payoff comes in satisfying the student’s needs.

Here’s a question for every railroader out there: Where did I get off-track at? Uhh, I don’t know. Oh yes, I was ranting about people who know less than me but want to tell me all about it. I guess you just have to deal with that if you publicly ask questions. As for me, I don’t want people to know how dumb I am. I’d rather research my questions in private. Then when I open my trap, people can call me ‘guru’. Who am I to tell them they are wrong? It’s rude!

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