Tip #146: Jumping In Without A Net!

After I had been an Assertiveness trainer for UW-Madison Extension for over a year, I was eager to expand my repertoire as a trainer. So I was very excited when there was an advertisement in the paper for an ad hoc instructor in Supervisory Management at the Madison Area Technical College. I submitted my resume and had a very nice interview with John Lalor, who was the Director of the Marketing Department that housed the Supervisory Management Technician associate degree program. A few weeks after that interview, I got a call in the evening from John. Apparently, an ad hoc instructor who was slated to teach a semester-long Supervisory Skills course was not able to fulfill his commitment. John needed an instructor immediately, to start the very next evening!

I was completely overwhelmed and protested that I had only taught Assertiveness- I knew nothing about Supervisory Skills!!! John was very reassuring, telling me that there was already a text book and that he knew I would do a wonderful job. I disagreed, knowing full well that this was WAY out of my league! But John persisted, even agreeing to meet with me in the early morning before I left for my day job with the state.

Although I am sure that I prepared a lesson outline and printed off materials sometime during the day, I really don’t remember WHAT I did that first evening class. For the rest of the semester, I was always only one chapter ahead of my class. I also went straight to the library to find as many books as I could on the subject, liberally drawing content and activities from every likely reference source.

Luckily, the text book: The Art of Leadership, by Lin Bothwell, had terrific content and lots of activities, questionnaires, and self assessments. Its content and approach validated the use of dialogue, group activities, personal action plans, progress reports, and colored cartoon overheads to emphasize key points that had worked so well in the Assertiveness classes. I still refer to it to this day when I design supervisory training.

I found that I loved the subject and really enjoyed the students, many of whom were already in the work world. I was also stimulated by the constant challenge of coming up with creative and effective ways to teach new content and enable the students to experience and apply their new learning. Since the entire subject area was uncharted domain for me, I felt free to experiment with lots of different teaching methods.

When the semester was over, there was a need for someone to teach the next course ( I can’t remember whether it was Running Effective Meetings or Active Listening Skills or Conflict Management). John asked me to do it and I said “Yes.” Although I didn’t know anything about the topic, I now knew how to research content, create lesson plans, and incorporate educational as well as entertaining activities that launched the students on their own voyage of self discovery.

That began an entire second career for me. Each semester marked the need for a course on a new topic and I always said “Yes” and then made a mad dash to the library to start my research. Thus I slowly built up my repertoire of topics, as well as developed great relationships with many of the students. One of them actually became a life long friend, Teri Pickering, whom I am visiting this weekend to belatedly celebrate her birthday.

As you can see, this MATC teaching experience gave me many gifts. The key gift was the opportunity to face my very real fear of inadequacy. I gradually learned to trust that, if I did my homework and honored basic adult learning principles, the result would be mostly good. I was also forced to accept that I would always be a work in progress.

Lorraine Ortner-Blake pens the following quote on one of her beautiful art cards:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you’ve known, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen. There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.”

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