What criteria do you use to determine if somebody is faking their skills as a teacher?

You can’t rely on awards or certifications. Sure, these things can help. But they’re not completely accurate. When you ask a question, how do you know that you’re getting the very best answer? And when somebody explains how to do something, how do you know if the explanation is good?

There’s two aspects of this.

The first thing to consider is if an instructor knows the material directly. Has the instructor done this sort of work before? Experience plays a big part but you also need to consider the quality of the experience.

I see this all the time on resumes where a person will claim maybe ten years of experience. Is that ten years of continuous improvement and skill development? Or is it one year that’s been repeated ten times. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing bad about becoming the best, most highly qualified person in a narrow range of skills. Bruce Lee once said that he had no fear for somebody who practiced ten thousand kicks once. But that he feared the person who had practiced one kick ten thousand times. In this case, doing the same thing over and over actually makes a person better. But what people sometimes put on their resume is when they’ve been coasting for the last nine years and stopped improving a long time ago. That’s when one year of experience repeated ten times stops being a good thing.

Somebody who has no clue what they’re doing will not make a good teacher. Even if that person has the best curriculum and the best certifications. Because the moment you have a question that falls outside the material, the instructor won’t understand. The instructor also won’t be able to tell you stories and won’t be able to relate concepts together. You can look for these as a sign that an instructor really does know the material.

The next thing to consider is the teaching skills of an instructor. Just because a person knows something doesn’t mean that person knows it well enough to teach it to you. It’s said that one of the best ways to learn something is to try teaching it. I face this problem all the time because I taught myself how to program, I never went through a traditional computer science curriculum. There’s a lot of details that I’ve managed to avoid over the years with no problems. Anytime I needed that detail when working on a project, I would look up the information as needed. Teaching requires more preparation. Especially when trying to anticipate questions. That’s when the learning really begins.

Listen to the full episode for and example that demonstrates what I think is the best way to judge a person’s teaching skills.