When Instructors Are Students

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One of the most exciting and frightening groups of students to teach is a group of instructors. By their very nature, good instructors are energetic, very competent, quick and quick to judge, and most definitely have their own ideas about how a class should be conducted. As an instructor of instructors, you have big expectations to meet. Just like any class you teach, you absolutely must be technically competent, you absolutely must have performed all the labs in advance, and you must have checked out your lab setup. Every student deserves at least this much respect, whether they be regular students or instructor-students.

For a class of instructors, it’s also a good idea to share additional lab exercises, handouts, helpful URLs, etc., because your students expect to be able to take what they learn from you and teach a successful class. Beyond this, the most important thing is establishing behavioral ground rules for the class.

Ground rules must be established, preferably through e-mail or other written communication, prior to the class and then again at the beginning of the class. Otherwise, a class of 12 instructor-students is going to have 12 very different sets of behavioral expectations for the class.

How do you want to run the class? It’s not so much what the ground rules are but the fact that they are your ground rules that support the orderly flow of the class so that all instructor-students can have a good experience.

Here are a few suggestions from my personal experience bag. These suggestions, for the most part, apply to all classes, but they definitely apply to a class of instructors.

For example:



  • Do you feel comfortable with instructor-students leaving the room at will to take phone calls, or do you want them to wait until scheduled breaks to reply to voicemail and pages? If you don’t communicate your preference, both behaviors and perhaps several more will be exhibited.
  • Do you want students to go ahead and take a break when they finish their lab exercises, or do you want them to wait in class and take a break together? What do you want those who finish their labs early to focus on if you don’t want them to leave at that time?
  • Are you comfortable handling an instructor-student who wants to dominate the discussion on the fly when the situation occurs, or do you want to make it a point up front that all instructor-students need to participate and their peers need to allow for such participation?
  • Do you want to enforce the start time and the return time from breaks or lunch, or are you comfortable with instructor-students coming back a few minutes late?
  • Do you want to require all the students to do the labs as written, or are you comfortable with instructors who want to go beyond the material, trying out variations of the labs?
  • Etc., etc., etc. I think you get the idea.


Now, if you are the instructor-student, what kind of behavior should you take to the class?

In my humble opinion, an instructor as a student is primarily just another student and, if anything, should be more respectful and tolerant of the instructor in charge than other students might be. In no circumstance should an instructor-student even think about taking over a class discussion, even if he thinks the instructor is wrong.

When I am a student, I sit in the back row because I know that I typically finish labs early and want to use my station to do other things such as my e-mail. I don’t want to be up in the middle of the class where I might distract others by my surfing. Therefore, I choose the back row.

When I am a student and I ask a question the instructor does not know, I don’t keep drilling the instructor in front of the class. I gladly accept the “I don’t know, but I will find out the answer” response, and I don’t expect the instructor to have the answer by the next day or even by the end of the class. In fact, I take my own question on as a challenge and attempt to answer it myself and then share the answer with the instructor so that she can share it with the class.

When I am a student, I do everything in my power to learn all that I can from the instructor, the class materials, the labs and my peers—but always in a manner that does not humiliate or otherwise impinge on my instructor’s domain. After all, the instructor-student is a student, and his instructor has a right to expect him to act as a student.

Ann Beheler is executive director/dean of Collin County Community College’s Engineering Technology Division, which houses one of the nine Cisco CCNP academic instructor training centers in the world. E-mail Ann at abeheler@certmag.com.


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