How to help in small towns - community education

Last week, I taught my first community education class in over ten years, "Facebook for Beginners", to a lovely group of senior citizens who were interested in this website they heard so much about. An hour and a half was all it took to set up an account, adjust privacy settings, learn the essentials, and to ultimately figure out if it was something they’d use. Nothing life changing, but none-the-less, necessary and worthwhile.

If you care about your community, you should care about education. Young and old, and everyone in between, can benefit from a well-rounded educational system. But it takes good teachers to make it all happen. That’s where you come in. Do you have any skills, hobbies, knowledge, specialties, or general comprehension you could share? I bet you do. So once you motivate yourself to teach a class, here’s the next steps you're gonna want to take.

Steps to creating a community education class:

1. Ask good questions - Contact your local C.E. office and ask them about what classes they have requests for that aren’t currently filled or if there is a lack of instructors in current regular courses. Find out what resources they have available if you do teach a class (computers, classroom, copy machine, etc.). Also, be upfront when it comes to compensation, and find out what the going rate is. Don’t under-ask, cover every aspect you’re unsure about. And if you're town doesn't have a community education program, check with some of your neighboring towns.

2. Know your subject - You don’t have to know everything about your topic, but be sure to know enough to teach it. I highly doubt you’ll cover the entire scope of astronomy in an hour, but if you’re teaching a stargazing class, you need know the basics...and a little more. Look online to see if someone else has taught this subject and use their experiences to help better yours. If the time comes where you’re asked a question you don’t know, simply reply, “I’m not 100% sure of the answer...let me find out and get back to you.” Then get back to that person. 

3. Specialize the class - Be as specific as possible about what you’re going to cover. It will help you in creating your curriculum and in the drafting of your outline. It will also help weed out people who already know parts of what you’re going to cover and will make them feel better about paying for something they actually want to learn. If your subject has different levels, try offering a variety of classes that appeal to different abilities. (i.e. Computer classes require certain skills before using certain programs. Teach the basic skills class then a specialized program class down the road.)

4. Keep it simple - It’s better to have extra time for answering questions and practicing skills than it is to cram tons of info into their heads which falls out later when they get home. You’re biggest fear should be waisting the students’ time by not equipping them to use what they learned out in the real world. Outline your lesson(s) and then refine, refine, refine. When it comes down to class time, those main points are the only thing you’re required to cover. Everything else will be a bonus!

5. Think workshop - I keep referring to community ed classes when I should be calling them workshops. A classroom seems sterile and ridged whereas a workshop is pictured as active and fun. “Getting your hands dirty” should be the motto of every class you teach. People don’t just want instruction, they also want practice and experience. Be sure to let them tinker and make mistakes with whatever you’re doing. Even if you think your topic is boring and as-is, look for ways to interject activities. Your students will be more inclined to recommend you if they find the class fun.

6. Evaluate and repeat - Most community education programs have forms for both the instructor and the student to fill out. But if they don’t, make up a quick sheet where you can get some honest feedback. If there are comment trends, take note and adjust for next time. And why not ask a friend or mentor to sit in on the session just to give you feedback? It can only help you become better. Also, be sure to teach on a regular basis. You’re doing a very good work by teaching. Keep it up and encourage others to do the same.

Please share your experiences and strategies with community education below. We can educate each other in the process. Cheers!

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