Ask anyone how his mortgage payment is calculated or the implication of compound interest and immediately you get a look that is a mix of terror and ignorance.
Finance has that effect on most people.
Finance is inextricably linked to numerical aptitude and that’s where most people get stuck. You see, a large number of the adult department of the human race are numerically inept. Yours truly was one of those in my juvenile years and I can frankly confess now -28 years later- that Mathematics used to leave me petrified. What saved me from Math Hell was a great Teacher, and soon I was topping the class.
Like most people, I was taught by teachers that ranged from the incredibly good to the painfully incompetent with most stuck in the zone of mediocrity in between.
So, what exactly makes for an exceptional Teacher?
Technical depth is essential. One element of exceptional teaching is the ability to simplify sticky concepts. To do that, you must not just explain the How and What but also the Why (a highly feared question for most teachers!).
If you happen to be teaching working professionals, experience in the corporate world is a sine qua non. A Teacher should be able to clarify tough concepts by linking them to what happens in the real world, and this typically comes only if you’ve been there and done that.
But even experience alone is not sufficient.
The ability to communicate is essential. Not just spoken or written skills but also tone and body language. Clarity, precision, simplicity, brevity and command of the language often come to mind when you think of a superlative communicator. In addition, the ability to monitor, read and respond quickly to a student’s body language is invaluable.
You must have a strong bias towards interacting with people. Teaching is a people business and it’s not (well, not yet anyway) something that a machine can deliver well. Face to face interaction with students is such an interesting and important part of teaching.
A well-developed sense of humour is valuable. It does well to break the complexity and monotony of technical sessions and also helps the students relax. Everyone has his own brand of humor and all I can say is keep it relevant and wholesome.
Innovation is another hallmark. A good trainer is always trying to find out new ways of making the learning experience more effective. It could be anything- showing documents from the internet, throwing a snap quiz, opening up today’s Financial Times to relevant news items or articles etc. You are only limited by your imagination, and hence Innovation is to me, the most exciting part of teaching.
Arguably the most vital ingredient to be consistently successful in the classroom is the passion to teach. And this is truly the hardest to replicate or be consistent at. The fact is, few people remain passionate about the same thing for long and they often seem to lose interest. This trait-or lack of it thereof- will be easily picked by the students; as a friend told me recently, passion cannot be faked!
There you have it folks. The unique recipe is Technical Depth, Experience, Communication Skills, People Skills, Humor, Innovation and Passion. Of course this is just my view but these are exactly what we look for in a Trainer when we hire at Genesis, and it’s worked. And I wish schools and universities would assess candidates for teaching positions based on similar criteria instead of relying so much on qualifications and published papers.
So the next time you get interrogated on anything to do with Finance or numbers look the person straight in the eye and say firmly, loudly and clearly- ‘ I just don’t understand numbers and my sixth grade Math teacher is to blame’.
Binod has been teaching advanced finance and accounting courses since 1996. He quit corporate life (where he worked for firms like KPMG, Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young in Oman, Nakheel in Dubai and Gulf Finance House in Bahrain) in 2009 to help set up and run Genesis Institute. Binod says that his focus as a Trainer, Mentor and Speaker is to deliver conceptual clarity, get to the core issues, build relationships, keep things simple (and fun!) and talk of practical and effective solutions.