Updated: Jul 6
Basic Characteristics of a Good Instructor
"The hardest year of teaching is the one you are currently in."
Based on their experience, Ty Branaman and Craig Migliaccio believe the following characteristics, strategies, behaviors, and habits make a good instructor.
Tip #1: A good instructor cares.
People matter to the instructor. Therefore, the instructor cares about the person being taught, whether that person is a student* in the classroom, or a less experienced technician on the job. A good HVACR instructor also cares about the quality of his/her work. An instructor who cares, builds meaningful relationships with people, and always tries to do his/her very best. As best as you are able to, aim to build a positive relationship with your students. You may not realize but you may be the most positive/consistent influence in someone else's life! (*Student in this article refers to anyone who is learning from you- a classroom student, an apprentice, a less experienced co-worker, etc.)
Tip #2: A good instructor is continually learning. If you don’t know something, ask questions and search to find the right answer. Attend conferences and seminars. Take courses in-person or online. Pick the brains of other instructors/technicians, especially those who are more experienced than you.
An instructor adds a human aspect to the material being covered. The material is available online, in books or manuals or pamphlets, or elsewhere, but an instructor has the ability to make the subject come alive by giving examples from personal experience, or from what's been heard or read elsewhere. Become a reliable resource for your students. Be someone your students trust. The human aspect is more important than all the technical aspects that are done or taught.
Tip #3: Be humble. Keep your ego at home. Being humble includes being willing to learn from others. (Occasionally that may even be from one of your students!)
Tip #4: Keep sports, religion, and politics out of the classroom. You obviously have your own opinion and view on these topics, but expressing them in a classroom or work setting may prove to be disruptive and counterproductive to your end goal. (If a student asks you for your opinion on one of these topics, it may be best to discuss it after class or after work is finished.)
Tip #5: Encourage and compliment students. When a student* follows directions, does something correctly, works well with others, etc, be sure to acknowledge this in some way such as a high five, positive comment, smile, etc.
Teaching Strategies and Techniques
Tip #6: When telling a student his answer is incorrect, do so in a polite, respectful way. Thank the student for thinking about the question you posed and for attempting to answer it. You can reply, “That’s not exactly what I am looking for” rather than “That’s the wrong answer!” Both these responses indicate you are looking for a different answer, but the former reply does it in a much more positive way than the latter. The student is likely to respond more positively to this response. This includes continuing to ask questions and participating in the learning process.
Tip #7: Develop a classroom environment that encourages inquiry and exploration. Rather than always providing the information, pose questions that help develop a desire to learn. Encourage students to think, and to actively use available resources to answer the question. Curiosity is a powerful learning tool!
Don’t feel you need to immediately answer every question posed by students.
Keep some questions for later in the week/month/marking period. This gives you
time to find the answer (if you don’t know it). Or the question may fit in better when
different course material is being studied. However, if you want to encourage students
to ask questions, you MUST answer their questions at some point, or they will think you
don’t care about them and their education.
Tip #8: Make sure what you are teaching is currently correct and accurate. New materials, components, and procedures are being developed on a fairly regular basis. This ties in with Tip #2 above: A good instructor is continually learning.
Materials and Resources
Tip #9: Make every effort to obtain equipment, tools, and product parts that will help the students, by giving them first-hand interaction with items related to the trade.
If you are able to, get a wide variety of scrap units/systems from local contractors, as possible. This will help students experience the range of products available, and/or it may also show them how a particular unit has evolved over time.
Apply for any grants available to help stock your classroom. Sometimes grants are easier to find, apply, and win, than you may think.
Contact manufacturers. They may provide sample materials.
Tip #10: Simple is usually better. Rather than overwhelm students with a thick, cumbersome textbook, when possible, distribute smaller packets of material. This makes it easier for students to comprehend, manage, and digest the content without being overwhelmed by size of the material.
Tip #11: Use educational resources such as computer programs, virtual reality equipment, literature, and videos to aid in instruction. Whenever possible, interact with more experienced teachers (especially those in the same subject area as you). You may learn new ways to present material.
Tip #12: Encourage students who easily/quickly understand the material to help their classmates. As they interact with their classmates, these students are learning communication and problem solving skills . This approach reinforces the fact that learning can be both an individual and a group endeavor.
Tip #13: Talk with people in the industry who will be hiring your students, in order to find out what their needs are. This will help you align your teaching with the needs in the field. As you prepare students for the needs in the local community, remember not to lose sight of the broader picture in the field.
Flexibility and Creativity
Tip #14: An instructor needs to be a problem solver in order to help students learn. This is particularly true when one or more students don’t understand the material the way it has been presented. When this happens, rethink how to present the material in other ways. The instructor may need to present the same material to different students, or different classes of students, in different ways. This requires more work on the instructor’s part, but the reward is when a student has an “Aha moment” that indicates he/she finally understands the material. (Quick note: A student's "aha moment" was one of the most rewarding things I experienced as a teacher. It helped motivate me to keep making every effort to help my students learn.)
(NOTE: It is NOT an instructor’s job to make a student learn. Rather, the job of the instructor is to inspire students to want to learn! Learning is each student’s responsibility. Learning requires paying attention to the instructor, asking questions, doing assignments, participation in labs/demonstrations/skills competitions, and making an effort.)
Tip #15: Teaching involves presenting students with the building blocks of the subject matter. Don’t be afraid to teach the basics, because it is possible the students in your class have had different experiences, different exposure to the tools, and equipment of the subject area. With HVACR this may necessitate taking a unit apart to show the individual components, to describe each component's role in the system, and to explain how each operates. Or a lesson or two may be on how to properly use a tool- first by the instructor demonstrating how to safely and correctly use the tool, and then by having students using the tool on a hands-on assignment.
Tip #16: Think outside the box when presenting material. This will help make learning interesting. It may require changing your teaching method, or the location of the class, in the middle of a lesson (taking the students outside for instruction, having students describe to each other in pairs how a component works, cutting open a component so students can see its inner workings, etc.).
Tip #17: Have basic skills competitions in the classroom. This helps the instructor assess/determine how quickly and how well the students are able to use tools or to complete a specific task (e.g. stripping thermostat wires and wiring in a thermostat, hammering a nail in straight, using a drill, brazing, etc.). Also, remember, its not always how fast a student accomplishes the goal, quality matters!
Being an instructor is more than knowing the course material and how to teach it. It is more than knowing the equipment, components, and tools. It is more than knowing the correct steps and procedures for installation and for troubleshooting. It is about inspiring others!
Being an instructor is about relationships with individual students as well as with groups of students. The individual relationship may be one-to-one with a classroom student, an apprentice, or a co-worker. The group relationship may be with a class of students, with your colleagues, with coworkers, with people in the community, or with a product manufacturer. In those relationships, invest and make a difference! Remember, you may never know the real impact that you made in someone's life but a caring person chooses to invest in others anyway. Sometimes you get to see that impact and it really humbles you.
Being an instructor is one of the most rewarding careers out there! You can give a student the ability to support his/her family well with the knowledge and skills gained. Remember, you are a teacher whether you are in a classroom, in the service van, or on the jobsite. Invest in others well!
An instructor is one who cares about people, cares about doing an excellent job, and is someone who is continually learning.
Learn more from a great HVACR Instructor, Ty Branaman!
Want More Tips For Teaching HVAC/R? Check out our video below!
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Published: 06/27/2022 Authors: Ty Branaman and Craig Migliaccio
About the Author: Ty is a nationally renowned HVACR Teacher that has over 30 years experience teaching high school, post secondary, and in-field technician students. Ty does on-site training events and ride-along training. Ty also makes instructional videos to share his knowledge. Ty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his video library is available here: https://www.youtube.com/c/TyBranaman
About the Author: Craig is the owner of AC Service Tech LLC and the Author of the book “Refrigerant Charging and Service Procedures for Air Conditioning”. Craig is a licensed Teacher of HVACR, Sheet Metal, and Building Maintenance in the State of New Jersey of the USA. He is also an HVACR Contracting Business owner of 16 years and holds an NJ HVACR Master License. Craig creates educational HVACR articles and videos which are posted at https://www.acservicetech.com & https://www.youtube.com/acservicetechchannel & https://www.facebook.com/acservicetech/