10 commandments for public safety educators

patient care scenarios

CarolinaFireJournal - TIM WOJCIK
04/26/2010 -

In 1975, James Kidd wrote a book entitled, How Adults Learn. In his book, he outlines 10 “commandments” for adult educators. In last quarter’s Journal, we talked about the first five commandments. In this edition I would like to unpack the last five of these words of wisdom, slightly paraphrased, and apply them to educating our firefighters and EMS providers.


We need to respect EVERY student who comes to our class ready and wanting to learn regardless of their ability to do so or their previous experiences.

(This is part two of a two part series on the 10 commandents for public safety educators.)

  1. Thou shall not steal from any person his rightful responsibilities for determining his own conduct and the consequences thereof.
    Obviously, we can not 100 percent control the conduct of our students. Some students are going to act out regardless of what we say or ask of them. What we can be in control of is the consequences of those actions. This commandment speaks to our classroom discipline policy (yes, just like elementary school). It is very important to have behavioral guidelines for your classroom. I feel that it is just as important to communicate those guidelines and don’t just assume your students know what behavior is expected. Set guidelines early and set the consequences for not following them early. The last part of this commandment tells us that we then have to stick to our guns when enforcing classroom policy. If you tell your students that uniforms are required or you will be sent home, then you HAVE to send them home when they show up in cut-offs and a tank top. The same thing applies to gear and safety equipment. The consequences of not following the rules should be specific and enforced. If you make a statement like “The first time I see a cell phone, no one will be able to bring phones to class,” you must enforce it. Think about your policy statements before you make them.

  2. Thou shall honor anyone engaged in the pursuit of learning and serve well and extend the discipline of knowledge and skill.
    Our students come from different backgrounds and have different levels of experience. What this commandment teaches us is that if our students are in the class to learn, we have to respect them from day one for that reason. Notice that I did not say if they are in the class. The commandment says that they have to be engaged (involved in) the learning process. We need to respect EVERY student who comes to our class ready and wanting to learn regardless of their ability to do so or their previous experiences. From there we need to extend the knowledge and skills of every student. That may mean that we need to customize our class a little. We all know that too simple or too complex of a class will lose students. The key is to match students with the knowledge and skills that they need to feel successful. This may not be an easy task in a class of 20. Creative group assignments, role assignments and projects are a great way to do this.

  3. Thou shall have no universal remedies or expect miracles. Just as every student learns differently, there will be different remedies to communicating knowledge and skills to each student.
    Two immediate examples come to mind. While in paramedic school, I learned the “clock method” for calculating the administration rates for certain medications. While in pump ops school, I learned the “hand method” for calculating pump discharge pressures. While both of these methods are valid and work quite well, I actually find it a bit confusing at times to use “short-cuts” like these. Not being very good at math, I tend to doubt myself if I don’t know the actual true formula. It’s not that these methods are ever going to let me down, but in my mind I have to KNOW why they work. You may have students that are the same way. With this in mind, we need to be very careful to not teach the short-cuts without the knowledge.

    My paramedic instructor may have done this best by teaching us HOW to calculate Lidocaine long hand and THEN showing us the short cut, ensuring that we could use both tools. These are only examples. The take away point to this commandment is that not all solutions will work for all students. Don’t be afraid to try “out of the box” thinking to help them get it!
  4. Thou shall cherish a sense of humor which may save you from becoming shocked, depressed, or complacent.
    While for most of us public safety instructors it would be pretty hard to be shocked, it can be quite easy to become depressed (discouraged) or complacent. We see those two all the time and often chock it up to an instructor being “burnt out.” Which of us really WANTS to be the old burnt out instructor who could care less (complacent)? Hopefully, none of you raised your hand. The way to avoid becoming burnt out as an instructor is to not only maintain the ability to laugh, but to cherish it. Cherish, cling to and hold close to those things that can make us laugh, not only in the classroom but in life itself. Humor is an incredible learning tool. It breaks down barriers and opens students up to all sorts of new concepts. Laugh in the classroom — daily. Use appropriate jokes, stories, videos, whatever. When you design your lectures or presentations, purposefully build in a joke or comic or something else that is humorous. This can be as simple as a comic or cartoon at the beginning or end of your PowerPoint or class presentation. If you are not currently doing this, try it. I promise that you will be amazed at how it can change your classroom.

  5. Thou shall remember the sacredness and dignity of thy calling, and, at the same time, thou shall not take thyself too damned seriously!
    Teaching is indeed a sacred and dignified calling. Even in the Bible, we are told that teachers will be held to a higher standard. Paul was talking about spiritual teachers, but the same applies to those of us in public safety. As a teacher, you WILL be held to a higher standard, by your students, co-workers and the public. Expect it and act accordingly. Likewise, don’t be offended when someone calls you out on that. Don’t let it make you mad, let it encourage you to learn more and do better because you ARE the instructor and they are watching you. If you don’t take criticism (or the potential for it) as a source of encouragement, then maybe teaching is not for you and that’s ok too. Speaking of criticism, the last part of this commandment is pretty important too. You have a serious and important job to do, but in order to survive, you must maintain the ability to laugh at yourself. Once that ability is lost, you are well on your way to becoming the old crotchety instructor who is way too burned out to care or make much of an impact. I seriously doubt that any of you had that listed among your career goals.

In this quarter’s edition we looked at the back five of the Ten Commandments for Public Safety Educators. Remember to create a classroom discipline policy — maybe even involve your students. Once that is done, it is important that we enforce those policies and their consequences fairly and across the board. We must respect all students who come to us for knowledge and make every attempt to meet their individual needs. Avoid the expectation of quick fixes and solutions that will reach every student. Think of them as individuals and act accordingly. Laugh and then laugh some more. Laughter is key to avoiding burn out and to breaking down those walls that prevent our students from learning.

My goal is to give you, the educator, the tools and motivation that you need to usher in the next generation. If there is anything I can do to help you with that or if you have any questions or comments about this month’s article, please contact me.

Tim Wojcik works as an educator for the Palmetto Health/University of South Carolina School of Medicine Simulation Center in Columbia, SC. With 20 years of public safety experience behind him, Wojcik’s major focus is the use of high tech/high fidelity simulation to train pre-hospital providers. He continues to serve as a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Lexington County (SC) Department of Public Safety. For more information visit http://tripod.com.
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