Things About Training & Teaching Writers Need To Know

Got a character who is supposed to be trained or taught in some capacity, especially in a fantastic or unusual one? Trying to write about some sort of school or academy? Here are some helpful things to know about the general subject of teaching and training people.

What having a teacher can do for someone. In addition to instructing students in the overall topic, teachers can also potentially spot and point out errors in the students' techniques and offer personalized guidance and tips, which helps them avoid getting stuck in counterproductive habits that may be difficult to unlearn later. They can also offer students encouragement and moral support to help keep them motivated. They might also have connections and be able to refer students to employers and the like once they've finished their education.

That having an elite master for a teacher or going to an elite academy is no magical guarantee of excellence. Even the greatest teacher in the world can only do so much for a student who has no talent and/or no patience for the subject being taught. A student might be able to learn all the moves and techniques, but still lack the self-control and/or judgment required to apply them in a useful or constructive manner.

And conversely, having a terrible teacher doesn't necessarily mean the student will come out terrible. Some students might be able to learn something decent from a terrible teacher despite everything. They might be bright enough to see the underlying theory the teacher is trying to get at, then extrapolate from it and work out what they can and should do for themselves, they might have the critical thinking skills to pick out what they need to ignore and discard, and they might study independently.

That being good at something doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a good teacher. Knowing your subject is certainly an important part of being a good teacher, but it's not the only part. To actually teach a subject well requires a great deal of patience with people (including people who probably want to see just how much they can get away with around you), the ability to explain things in a clear and understandable way, to be able to assess and work with a student's particular strengths and weaknesses, to know how to keep students engaged and interested, and to be able to raise their morales and make them believe in themselves. It's possible to be very skilled or knowledgeable in a subject and yet fail to meet any of these criteria.

That it's unrealistic to teach students at rapid-fire speed and expect them to remember it very well. First of all, people who have to read something in a hurry will most likely skim over the text, making it more likely they'll miss something important. Secondly, people don't remember information very well if they're barraged with a lot of it in a short space of time - it works much better to space it out, giving them a longer period of time to process and properly absorb it.

That when a gifted student appears to pick up something extremely fast, it might not be for the reasons one might think. While one might presume that the student is learning and retaining the information at lightning speed, it might very well be that the student has actually been studying this in an unofficial capacity for years, whether by observing others, reading up on the subject, or by actually practicing to some extent.

That it's also unrealistic to expect someone to remember everything after only being told once. People are likely to soon forget anything that counters their previous habits or beliefs, or that they can't immediately put to practical use. Many things that people hear only once fit into one of these two categories, and so are quickly forgotten.

That just because students are told something, does not mean they "know" it. Yes, you can tell a student that mixing vinegar and baking soda will result in a nifty chemical reaction, but that doesn't mean that the student knows that this is true. All it means is that the student knows that you said it was true. The student will know it's true upon seeing it actually demonstrated. Thus, practical experience is vitally important in the learning process.

That memorization is only part of the learning process. In addition to memorizing things, students also need to learn how to apply what they've learned in a practical manner - whether that's in solving everyday problems or coming up with new creative ideas. They also need to learn how to extrapolate reasonable inferences from what they've learned, and how to put everything they know together in synergy to get even better at problem-solving and creating new ideas.

That "succeed or die trying" style "training" is not training. The whole purpose of training is to build up your students' skills, which means that you start out small and simple and work them up to harder and more complicated things as time goes on. You teach them basic moves or principles, then let them practice in a controlled, low-risk environment. As they progress, you teach them more advanced things and put them into more challenging (but still controlled) situations. To put people into an intensely difficult scenario they have absolutely no preparation for isn't going to help them learn anything; if anything, they'll be completely overwhelmed and and up freezing, hiding, or floundering and flailing about with no actual clue what it is they should be doing. What they won't do is magically pull these skills they've never been taught out of thin air in the nick of time. If anything, the ones that come out relatively unscathed probably don't have any special talent; most likely, they're the ones who simply got lucky enough to avoid getting hit or to find a good hiding spot.

That teaching trainees to be cold and callous toward each other is counterproductive. You know that trope where cadets are taught to trust absolutely no one (not even each other!) and to be ready and willing to kill each other on a dime if ordered? Well... that kind of thing is bad for team cohesiveness. If they feel like they can't trust each other at all, why should they try to cooperate? And if they aren't willing to cooperate, how will they work together when it's really important? For another thing, it's bad for morale. It makes students feel alone and isolated, and makes them afraid of each other. It's a proven fact that loneliness is bad for people mentally and physically.

That sometimes it takes practical experience to get the point across. If you simply tell someone some fact or other, this person doesn't "know" that this fact is true. All this person knows is that you said it was true. This is a very significant difference. For all this person knows, you might be lying, exaggerating, or simply have no idea what you're talking about. Thus, demonstrations and first-hand learning experiences can be crucial.

That good mentors and teachers will try to be ethically mindful. They'll try to avoid putting their pupils into needless danger, and won't do anything that ought to require consent without obtaining it. (If the students are underage, they may need to obtain it from their parents.) They also won't get into relationships with their students, even if they are of age, as doing so would create a conflict of interest and could easily lead to an abuse of power.

That "trained from early childhood" or similar scenarios should most likely include a well-rounded education. If not, you're going to end up with someone who is good at exactly one thing, but will lack basic skills to function on a day-to-day basis. Let's take a knight, for example. In addition to learning skills such as combat and horsemanship, the knight-in-training might also be learning court etiquette, geography, politics, religion, and so on.

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