Why I love the teaching process 

by | Feb 10, 2022 | Education & Training, Immunisation, Phlebotomy, Travel Health

After a decade of being a travel health nurse and doing a bit of teaching ‘on the side’ alongside it, I made a big decision last year.

I decided to switch the balance and concentrate more fully on teaching and make my clinical role the ‘side-project’. These days I tend to spend my days drawing on years of fond memories in the clinic (and my previous acute setting roles) to educate others in areas such as Travel Health, Phlebotomy, and Immunisation. As I sit here planning my next exciting project of designing a comprehensive BCG course, it’s made me reflect on why I’m happy that I made this decision.

Why do I love it? I’ll start with the part of the teaching process that everyone sees: That’s the part when you get in the classroom (or in front of the Zoom screen) with a group of people who are trusting you to take them through a journey of exploration and new knowledge. Waiting there for you to metaphorically grab them by the hand and gently say; ‘come with me, I’m here to make this easier for you’. 

Meeting the learners for the first time is like taking that first sip of wine after planning hard all week for a party. Then at the end of a session, when magically a few more people can perform an important skill, it’s like sitting back and watching all your party guests at 11pm nicely intoxicated, enjoying the fruits of your labour. 

This is the first reason why I love the teaching process: There’s a huge amount of joy and beauty to be gained from in helping others to learn a new skill. It fulfills others which in turn fulfills me. It gives me a tremendous feeling of reward and purpose. All the years I’ve spent gathering knowledge and applying my expertise is no longer just for me.

It’s for other people now.  

classroom picture illustrating just one small part of the teaching process

But there is way more to the teaching process than the classroom part

That part – the part where learners are present – is the culmination of a life-time’s work behind the scenes. Learning for teaching goes miles further than learning for practice. The teacher’s learning absolutely can’t be wrong. Or many others will get it wrong too. I firmly believe that being able to teach a subject is the gold standard of evaluating how well you truly know your field. Sometimes you don’t realise that you don’t really understand something until you teach it. The traditional notion of ‘see one, do one, teach one’, feels like a pretty accurate learning concept to me, if a little sparse in quantity of the actions it describes. 

‘Learning’ is a brilliant part of the teaching process

I love bathing in a subject that I’m course-prepping for; and immersing myself in all the new things I learn along the way. I love the many ‘ah ha’ moments I get as something I never quite felt I grasped before myself begins to make more sense.

As I am trying to figure out how to make it more understandable for learners, I often help myself to understand it better in the process.

Picture of man in jungle with a machete. Analogy of getting through thick jungle to find the good bits in the process

Many irrelevant things have to be trawled through too. Many boring things or out-of-date things that I resent for taking up my precious limited time and brain space. But I simply can’t cope with thinking I’ve not done my best to read absolutely everything about a subject before I teach it. I drudge on through with my literary machete in the paperwork jungle. It leaves me feeling exhausted, yet accomplished when I finally emerge into the light again.

I like preventing the learners having to do that difficult mission

After the reading, the digesting, achieving my own consolidation, the next part involves teasing out the pertinent parts. I have to think, what is the absolute key essence of this content? And, what context does this sit in? Where are the learners starting their journey from? Where is their base camp?

And how do I meet them there?

The teaching process cannot be effective if I’m a million metaphorical miles away from the learners.

And fortunately, I like being with people.

I want my learners to feel like I am right there with them. Even though I’m not there in practice with them (and on Zoom, not even in the same room), I want them to know I am feeling and acknowledging their apprehension, and their doubts about their abilities. I want to be there when they feel their first sense of pride and achievement when it clicks. I get a real buzz from witnessing their own ‘ah ha’ moments.  It’s sometimes not easy to put myself in their shoes when everyone in the class is wearing different ‘footwear’. It’s a part of the teaching process that is incredibly challenging to get right.

So, how do I do this?

I enjoy looking at a sea of grateful grins when I tell them I was terrible at taking bloods once, that I have given the wrong injections before, that I ran over on every single travel health consultation for the first six months of my role as a travel health nurse. If I can do the thing they are learning to do, they most certainly can. And if I can even get to the point of ‘teaching’ it then that’s certainly a ray of hope for everyone starting out.

And of course, there is no better part of the teaching process when someone is super nervous at the start of a course yet ends up brimming with enthusiasm to get stuck in by the end despite a few newbie nerves. I fricking love that bit.  

happy looking nurse ready to commence the new skill she just learned

The teaching process is a cultivating process.

I love being creative and absorbed in something.

It might look simple on the surface, but creating an interesting and stimulating ‘need-to-know-only’ course from wading through a massive pile of policy and academic literature, plus evaluating many years of practice at the same time, is flipping HARD.

This involves thinking of activities and determining the best way to illuminate something. It involves working out how higher learning can be achieved, making sure it’s all about the learner learning and not the teacher just imparting one’s own learning. Working out how to make a subject that’s dry as a porch doormat FUN (not that I think any of my favourite subjects are boring of course, but hey, I’m sure everyone is a bit fed up of the theory of hand-washing by now which does inevitably feature in some of what I teach).

The creativity involved in the teaching process is just so stimulating.

Even the more superficial parts are fun, like making pretty slides that summarise the key bits and bobs: Making ‘that slide’ you want to be the one that pops back into someone’s mind when they are later thinking ‘what the hell do I do here’.

I enjoy coming up with the analogies that I want to stick in someone’s head to cement the principle in their mind (‘vaccination is like a seat belt’). I like remembering the funny moments that help to perfectly illustrate why theory and practice can be so different sometimes (‘no, you can pull your trousers up – it’s in the ARM’). Likewise, I enjoy weaving clinical horror stories into the stream of policy and academia to get the sometimes-harsh reality of the point across (‘let me tell you a tale of how this nurse got struck off’). 

There’s also a lot of joy in bopping along when deciding the type of music I sometimes play in breaks to make everyone have a little dance and feel energised.

The videos, the pictures, the font choice, the formatting, the transitions: I love it all. And I’ll happily sit there for hours reflecting on all this stuff and creating endless ideas for presenting things.

The classroom versus real life: another challenge I embrace as part of my job.

I hate the thought of teaching something that’s unrealistic in practice. And I know that sadly, sometimes policy and practice are widely disparate in actual opportunity. I know that sometimes people go; ‘well it’s all very well saying there should be x mins per consultation but… [insert reason; often involving ‘funding’ and ‘lack of staffing’ here]’

I enjoy the challenge of working out the best ways to do something more effectively. And there is nothing quite like the teaching process to make one ponder on this for hours too. How DO you implement a 17-step process (where each ‘step’ takes 3 minutes if you are doing correct handwashing techniques in between) in a 10-minute appointment? Hmmmm. Real life. Real stuff. My learners are often preparing to do something to a person (often involving a sharp implement) usually with less-than-perfect resources available.

I’m constantly musing about how do I reassure them that it is doable? How to I put just the right emphasis on something so the learner takes it seriously enough to do the essential bits right but not terrify them completely into putting two fingers up at their employer and going to work in Starbucks instead (still overworked but less chance of a consequential court case).

This part of the teaching process opens my eyes to never loosing sight of how theory relates to practice and why I will never fully leave clinical practice. A dose of real life is a very necessary part of teaching and one which keeps me on my toes. Seeing clinical practice through ‘teaching’ eyes is very illuminating.

And I secretly quite like a bit of one-to-one time with the general public. Shhh.

The teaching process and self-confidence. A sticking point for me, but one I hope will eventually be fruitful.

Occasionally, just very occasionally, teaching reminds me that I can trust myself.

A large part of the teaching process involves trusting that my knowledge is tip top and current. Having faith that me and my equipment can work together as a team as we journey on through the digital teaching world together. I have to be confident that I have figured out the best way to help get each important point firmly in someone else’s mind. Trusting that I can give 100% of myself to customers AND training companies who are giving me their precious time and money -and indeed are putting their own trust in me.

The ‘trusting myself’ part I still struggle with. And all it takes is someone to say at the end; ‘thank you, I’ve learned a lot today’, and I feel like it’s all been worth it. This is what helps me to trust myself more. It’s what helps me to get excited about the next session. It’s what makes me feel I’m not navigating life too badly after all.  

The teaching process never stops. And I love that.

I never stop thinking, reading, exploring, wondering, reflecting, tweaking… I love it. My brain doesn’t turn off from it ever. I finish a course and get straight into editing it again, how could I do that bit differently? Did people engage with that part? Damn I didn’t explain that part very well, more group work next time…. and so on. But it’s the kind of work I have no problem ‘taking home with me’. And I don’t want it to stop.

These days I can’t watch a celebrity having a vaccine without shouting at the TV about the incorrect technique used. I can’t do the school run without having a vaccine-hesitancy conversation with another parent on the playground. And I absolutely can’t hold back from volunteering some travel health advice if someone tells me they are going on holiday.

I have a lot of passion for my subjects and they are deeply ingrained in my life.

A few months ago, I was enjoying an evening at my favourite rock club (well, thanks to the original rock club now being a Tesco, it was a reunion in a different venue and if you are Mancunian who was a teenager in the 1990’s like me you will know which one, but anyway, I digress). I found myself engrossed in a discussion about 30:2 CPR ratios with my equally geeky health care worker friend at 3am. And the funny thing was, neither of us thought this was in the slightest bit odd.

Man taking aim with a gun, as an analogy of the process of phlebotomy aiming for veins

Another time, I watched the film ‘Zombieland’ and came out of that with something to add to my phlebotomy course.

No, not biting people (although this definitely works if you want to draw blood). If you must know, it was that part with Woody Harrelson where he’s teaching ‘Little Rock’ to shoot Zombies and he tells her to take a deep breath before pulling the trigger. My phlebotomy students now get that tip.

(Steady, aim, deep breath before entering that vein folks…)

Part of the teaching process for me, is ‘giving it everything’.

I feel like I use every single part of my brain when I am preparing to teach. My head hurts after a session from being 100% focussed on the people before me. My whole world fades into the background, my concentration is pin point.

I certainly don’t always get it right. But I learn from that and store it up for next time. I know I often talk too much, misinterpret the question by accident and answer the wrong question like a crazed politician, make terrible jokes (especially when nervous) and phrase things in a cringe-worthy and less-than-eloquent way. And I generally rush at the end when I run out of time. I don’t know everything. And I know I’m far from perfect.

Like the learners, I also feel the pain of constrained resources. Frequently I find myself talking my way through something I deeply wish was a learner-driven activity instead. I wish I had 7 days to teach those 2-day courses. That would give me plenty of time to make EVERY ELEMENT a learner-directed activity, and proper amounts of time for individual feedback and attention.

But ‘time waits for no (wo)man’ rings loud in all our ears if you work in health care Education  

But hey that’s the reality of clinical practice too. We do the best we can in the time we are allocated and we just keep trying to get better and slicker and more efficient. 100% effort can still be given in a 30% kind of situation.

But the plus side of that is that there’s nothing like being forced into a small pocket of time to make a key point shine out quickly. 

So, back to my title: ‘why I love the teaching process’.

I like to think that curating is my job really. Gathering, chopping, editing, and reflecting on my life’s work. Making learning as straightforward as possible for people. Funneling it all down, wading through the noise, making it a quieter and more peaceful journey for others.

The hardest work is, ironically, the bit I’m not paid to do – the hours and hours of prep and extreme self- criticism and bright spotlight on all my weaknesses for everyone to see, and a devotion of my life to constantly learning.

But ironically (and don’t tell the bosses at health Academy), I often think to myself when I’m physically teaching -the ACTUAL paid bit; ‘I can’t believe I am actually being paid to do this’.

I love it.

And I feel so lucky that some of the best training companies out there, like Health Academy, allow me the pleasure of delivering their courses.

If you are even in the slightest bit considering a move to teaching, I hope this helps you to see why you could love it so much too. If you are passionate about a subject, teaching gets you totally immersed and engaged with it even more. Why not drop an email to the Health Academy team right now and make some inquiries? If I can do it, you most certainly can. Here you go, I’ll make it easier for you – CLICK HERE

And if you fancy learning some new skills and need some more ‘ah ha’ moments in your life right now, below are some of the courses I regularly deliver if you want to join me sometime. Hope to see you there one day!

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