Saturday, February 5, 2011

I've got 2 minutes, tell me what I need to be a good Instructor.

 So, I'm working on these forms and formats I mentioned in the previous post and I am really thinking hard about how to lay this out so that a newly appointed skills instructor can fill in the blanks on a form and come up with a workable, comprehensive lesson plan.
 My mind goes back to the Academy and my Fire Service Instructor 2 class, where they take the stuff you learned in FSI 1 and add to it all the stuff about lesson plan requirements, legal requirements in Life Safety Training, all the ways you might get sued for errors of omission, etc., etc.. I am thinking this ain't going to be so easy.
 My FSI 2 class was for all intents, the class from HELL. I am not talking about the Instructors, they were top notch, with many decades of experience. They were hand picked as the best in the State. They did a great job. No, I am referring to the material, the time schedule, and the amount of learning that we compressed into 6 days. Class began at 8:00am and went to lunch, continued on until dinner, and some evenings we had a short session. Whether or not we had an evening session there were assignments to get done by the end of the week as well as the Pro-Board exam to study for  and our practical exam presentations. Consequently, almost everyone in the class could be found either in the lounge or in the rotunda (common areas) studying together or working on projects and presentations until 1:00am almost every night. One night we were still at it at 3:00am. We took one evening off to celebrate the birthday of one of our Instructors at a local watering hole, other than that, it was all business, all day, every day.
 There were about 30 students in the class. Only 2, myself and another fellow, were volunteers. Everyone else was either career Fire Department, or employees of the State Office of Fire Prevention (our State Fire agency). I was a little intimidated at first, but the guys in the class were great and all very friendly. There were no 'volley vs. career' sentiments in the crowd and we all worked together as a class. I made good friends with a huge fella from a career Department from the other side of the state that is very urban and gets a lot of ugly stuff (think 'Detroit' like). He was the happiest guy I think I have EVER met and always made everyone around him smile. (Mostly I think he was really happy because his wife was at home with his 5 kids while he was getting a good night's sleep here at the Academy every night for a whole week.) We had a good class and eveybody came away with one or several new friends.
 But the class, as I said, was a bitch. I was visibly sweating my practical exam. My proctor/examiner, brought in from another state for the occasion, was the retired Chief of a very large career department with 35 years on the job. Just being introduced made me think there was no way I could impress this guy, and I almost lost hope then and there. How would you feel if you were put on a stage to perform in front of someone you honored and envied?
 For the FSI 2 practical, you must present an instructional program of your own design. You have a very finite period in which to do this and you are judged (graded) on a 2 page check list which includes things like material, timing, deportment, level of interaction with the students and a whole laundry list of required elements (3 or more types of media, visual aids and proper use of same, cognitive exam, etc. etc.).  You are also required to execute an evaluation of another student and you are graded on how you preform that evaluation. Finally, your written lesson plans are scrutinized to ensure that they comply with the minimum legal requirements for lesson plans and record keeping.
 If you pass the practical, you are permitted to go on to the written (Pro-Board) exam. They don't tell you what you scored on the practical, only that you passed and can sit for the written. Your final grade for the class is based on your submitted project grades, your practical exam, and your written exam. You do not get your Pro-Board (National) ceritfication unless you pass the written with at least a 70% score. I have always done well on written exams and once I got through the practical I breathed a lot easier.
 Until I opened the exam book. Apparently nobody had mentioned that anything in the FSI 1 material was fair game in the FSI 2 exam. Consequently there was a LOT of stuff in the exam that none of us remembered from FSI 1. I suffered through this exam like I have never done before. Instead of being done in the minimal time, I finished 10 minutes before the deadline. I was certain I had failed. I was devastated that I had spent an entire week of my time away from family only to fail.
 There were a lot of my classmates out in the hallway after the exam looking at their shoes. They felt like me, and were uncertain at best. Eventually they started calling us back in and handing out 'the envelopes'. These were the standard 9" x 12" brown envelopes that contained our grades and exam results along with the paperwork to either enroll in the next re-run of the class or get your National certification paperwork. We all opened our envelopes with caution and dread.
 My heart sank when I opened mine. I had received and overall grade of 83% for the class, but on the written exam I had received exactly a 70%. This was the minimum for passing. This had never happened to me, ever. I am always a 90's kind of guy. But then the wave passed over me when I realized I had passed and would not have to come back and do it again. This relief was immediately replaced by concern for my classmates and I shoved the papers back in the envelope and looked at the faces of others. Mostly I saw the same relief that I must have displayed, but in several cases I saw some pretty disappointed faces.

 I hung around for a while as others filtered out on their way home. I had a 4 hour drive ahead of me and was in no hurry (frankly, I was wired tighter than the filth string on a banjo.). I finally found an opportunity to catch the lead Instructor alone. I thanked him for his teaching effort that week and all the extra time he put in with us in the wee hours. Then I slipped in a comment about how I appreciated that they had probably had to throw out some of the poorer questions on the exam. This is what must have allowed me to reach a passing grade. "Oh no" he corrected me, "The exam is the exam. We found some questions that we will file a formal protest on, but these results are what they are, there are no adjustments. It is possible that some grades may be adjusted upwards after the review, but not today. You got exactly a 70 based on the questions in the exam, no adjustments."
 Five people in that class failed the written exam. Every one of them was in the career service, some of them were Instructors for the State Office of Fire Prevention, some were Department Instructors. I say this not as a dig, but because that's how hard the exam was. These were all good, competent Instructors.
 I think about that experience from time to time and how hard it was. We often do the 'killer classes' that take a lot out of us physically, I never thought the hardest class I would ever have was spent entirely in the classroom. I also think about that big happy guy from the big urban Department. He was killed fighting a fire in an abandoned building when it collapsed about a year after our class.

So now I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to put all this information into some 'fill-in-the-blank' forms to keep these guys on task. I'm finding it's not quite as easy as I thought it might be. Do any of you have forms and cheat sheets that you use for your instructors? I'm looking for ideas on helping these guys and gals get their thoughts together. You can email any ideas or suggestions to and I will thank you for it. I need something to get me off a dime here.

No comments:

Post a Comment