Nov 2016, Analogies, Teaching, and Storytelling

So very recently, I had two very different conversations that sparked my bright idea light bulb. And with two very unrelated people to boot. What was more, I totally made a fascinating connection with not two, but three completely different concepts. Crazy, I know.

The first conversation was with my sister. We were out for dinner and she mentioned that she had to train someone at her job. She admitted that the whole thing was terribly draining and didn’t understand how I did it for a living. (To be honest, I’m not sure how I do it either. One day at a time, I suppose.) She also mentioned that she had to repeat herself several times. As a teacher, and thus a professional repeater, I know how aggravating this is, but most importantly, that it is a workplace hazard in the teaching/training profession.

The second conversation I had was with my principal (my principal sounds weird. I mean the principal of the school I work at). I had one of those quarterly meetings in which the principal and I discuss teaching, planning, and leading educators’ favorite word, goals. Unlike the rest of my peers, I enjoy my quarterly meetings. The principal happens to be a mathematician like me and totally gets all my math puns. He’s such a nerd. Anyway, during our meeting, I accidentally made a teaching and storytelling analogy that he appreciated, but I was totally freaking out about. I keep my moonlighting activities as a writer on the down low. Bosses don’t typically like to hear about the other job. Kinda like boyfriends don’t like to hear about the other guy.

As I mentioned, he’s a nerdy mathematician, so it went right over his head (God, I hope he doesn’t read this post…). But the conversation stayed in my head and after dinner with my sister, I made a fascinating connection between analogies, teaching, and writing.

First, analogies. Analogies are fantastic, especially in the classroom. First of all, it keep things interesting, and secondly, it help students make significant connections. (And when I say connections, I mean connecting what I’m saying with what’s happening on the board. Believe it or not, they are two different things. Apparently). Bottom line: they make understanding difficult concepts easy.

Let’s do an example. (Yay!)

Math Concept: when working with functions, x is the independent variable while y is the dependent variable. Which is lovely, but I’m sure that you, and most of my students, could care less. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I lost you at functions. But if I were to follow that with, “You can think of x and y as a failing marriage. That bastard, x, makes all the decisions (independent variable), and poor y is simply reactive to x’s decisions (dependent variable).”

Perhaps not the most appropriate analogy (though, for the record, in a marriage both parties should always have equal say on the decision-making aspect of their marriage. Life lesson, kids). But my analogy was probably outrageous enough to catch your attention and make you view the concept in a different light. Oh, but not only that. Because this analogy was so weird and out of the blue, I’m positive that you (and my students) will remember it for a pretty long time.

That’s right. From now on, every time you hear the word “functions” you’ll most likely think “failed marriage.” (Wait. I’m not sure I like this analogy anymore…).

Next, writing. Analogies are also great tools in writing. Please refer back to my Math Concept. Witty, funny, and memorable (unabashedly tooting my own horn here), hopefully keeping you glued to my every word, waiting for the next witty, funny, and memorable analogy. Hopefully something that will keep you coming back to my blog for more.

Finally, teaching and storytelling. And we come to the crux of today’s entry. One of the most important lessons I learned over the years as a teacher is how not to teach. Or better say, how not to lecture. How many of us truly enjoyed lectures during high school? Or during college? I’m assuming that the majority of us are shaking our heads. Cool. This is not a bad thing. But unless we are obsessed with what’s being lectured to us, lectures will fail most of us. Mainly because we’re really good at tuning out what we just don’t really care about. So, how do I not teach? With discovery. (Twenty bucks you thought I was going to say analogies :).

I’m going to divert from my point for a second to mention something important about education and the way students are being taught now a days, which you may or may not be aware of. Schools, for the most part, are pulling away from teacher-driven instruction pushing towards student-driven instruction. Translation: letting kids take over. (Let’s take a moment to think about that. What comes to mind when you read “let kids take over”? If you’re thinking chaos, then you and I are on the same page. Home girl over here, aka Ms. Control Freak, has to allow her hormone-driven teenage students “take over the lesson.” And people wonder how I can lock myself in my room for hours on end with only my computer to interact with). Basically, it means allowing students to discover the lesson for themselves instead of telling them, or lecturing.

Makes sense, right?

The same could be said about storytelling and making that very important connection and impact on the reader. There’s this thing called exposition that writers are always told to stay away from. And for good reason. It’s lecturing the reader on plot points. Like, for real. The key to good storytelling is to allow readers to discover the plot for themselves. Look at that. Sounds just like student-driven instruction, don’t it?

Thus, the fascinating connection between teaching and storytelling. Mind blowing, right?

And how does analogy fit into this super amazing connection of awesomeness between teaching and storytelling? It’s a great tool to keep instruction and storytelling interesting, keeping the reader/student glued to your every word. Like that orange tan on Donald Trump. Glued to him like white on rice.

So, what does any of this mean to you if you’re not a writer or a teacher (or a blogger)? I’m so glad you asked yourself this question.

We will all at one point or another be in a position where we will need to train, tutor, or teach someone something. Be it at our job or even at home (someone in your family has a child. It’s just a fact). They key, my future teachers, tutors, and trainers, is to let your pupil discover what they have to do on their own. Guide them through the process, and if they’re stuck, don’t be so quick to give them the solution. Allow them to struggle for a bit. Struggling, after all, is part of learning and life. And use analogies, the more outrageous the better (just as long as it’s appropriate). All of this will help reduce the draining aspect of teaching and repeating yourself needlessly.

Alrighty. I made an absolutely pointless connection between analogies, teaching, and writing and then forced the connection on to you by totally lecturing you on how you can apply it, in the most complicated manner that has taken me thirteen years to perfect, to your life. How excited are you to apply this idea to your next tutoring/training session?

Oh, but I have an even better idea. I would love to read all about that time you trained/tutored someone and it didn’t go as planned. At all. As exciting as your future story about applying my method of training/tutoring will be, your past experience that didn’t go as planned (at all) will probably be just as entertaining. Please feel free to share your awesome training/tutoring experience below in the comment area. I want to read all about it.

On a different note, it’s Thanksgiving (woohoo! I love turkey!). I hope that all who are reading this have a whole bunch of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I know I do. I’m especially thankful for all who have subscribed to my Ezine and for all who support my work. You continue to give me reason and inspiration to continue writing and continue attempting to make you lives a bit happier with my quirky humor. I hope that in turn you continue to enjoy my work.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday full of warmth, love, and happiness.

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