Book Review: 'How to Teach Technicians (without putting them to sleep)'

September 03, 2018
Fall 2018
A version of this article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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I used to feel nothing but awkward when getting up in front of any crowd ... unless it was a small crowd and I could talk about something I really knew and liked, like hot water.

Years ago, I ran across this book How to Teach Technicians. Holohan knows that technicians are more visual and tactile than “regular” people. We want and need to see and touch things to understand them. I understand this rather well as I R one. I recently went looking for the book, and the good news is that it has just been rewritten and completely updated. The book walks you through the entire process of teaching, from knowing your audience, your material, and the environment you’ll be teaching in, to stories about the many ways teaching can get disrupted by things like dogs, crows, very hot lightbulbs, and not really knowing just what you’re doing!

How to Teach Technicians (without putting them to sleep). 2nd ed. By Dan Holohan. (Bethpage, NY): Holohan Creative Services, Incorporated, 2018. ISBN: 0692094423. 264 pp. Paperback, $25.00.

Dan makes it clear how important humor and connecting with your audience are for getting good results. I know his approach works. Some years ago, I was asked to give a talk on hot water at an American Water Works Association conference. I brought along a cut out water heater as my main visual aid All the other speakers seemed to be reading from their PowerPoint presentations, so when I came up with this heater and other real things to pass around the room, people got excited. I noticed people in the audience calling their friends and telling them, “Get over here—you must see this presentation!” That much excitement over water heating feels rather good to this hot-water nerd! Dan likes to say, ”Always remember, there are no boring subjects, there are only boring people.” Without Dan’s guidance, I probably would be one of those boring people!

Here you can see what’s in the table of contents:

Dan tells his story and how he came to understand the art and science of teaching. He then gets into the nuts and bolts of how to be a good teacher. The book is peppered with stories, which it seems we are hardwired to pay attention to.

Also, Dan has a way of making you feel like he’s speaking directly to you—which he is doing, and for good reason. Here he tells you directly:

When you watch the news on TV don’t you get the feeling that the person reading the news is talking just to you? You don’t feel like a part of an enormous crowd, do you? No, it’s personal . . . Now consider what the newsreader is going through. She’s sitting at a desk in a TV studio . . . She’s probably thinking about one person while she’s reading . . . She’s probably not thinking that she’s talking to all of America . . . And that’s why she makes the big bucks. She talks to just one person. She talks to you. And that’s a good thing because when you think about it, only one person at a time is watching and listening to her . . . Now, when I would get up in front of a crowd, I would get nervous at first, as I told you before. But then I would remind myself that the crowd is made up of individuals. They’re there together, sure, and they do look like a big hunk of humanity, but the truth is they’re just individuals who happen to be sitting together in a big room . . . And that’s why I don’t get nervous beyond those first few minutes . . .

Table of Contents

I’m not talking to a crowd.

I’m talking to you.

When I first read the book, I was so overwhelmed with all the information that I didn’t know if I could manage it all, but surprisingly, over time it just soaked in, seemingly making me better at teaching without a lot of effort. It must be that if you know what you should do to teach, getting it right isn’t getting it right isn’t that challenging.

learn more

For more information on this book, see the Heating Help website.

I must admit to having a bias. I count Dan as a friend, so I wouldn’t want to give an unenthusiastic review, but fortunately there is no real downside to this book. It has good and useful info for both new and experienced teachers. Dan’s experience teaching seminars certainly is different from the kind of thing a classroom teacher has to deal with. He’s dealing with new places and people each time, which isn’t the case for the classroom teacher. Each kind of teaching poses its own challenges. Still, I’ve known classroom teachers who could have benefited from Dan’s experiences. Also, reading through the new edition gave me lots of new stuff to play with; when the first edition was written, PowerPoint was new and unreliable technology.

Although the title says this book is about teaching technicians, fact is, this book is about teaching any adult who has ears and eyes that are openable. Dan makes learning and teaching fun, not dry, boring, or painful, so who wouldn’t want to soak up some knowledge while having a good time?

Every good teacher got to that point somehow. Most likely did it by going to the schools of hard knocks, flubs, and embarrassments. Dan gives you an easier and faster path.

Larry Weingarten was raised on the Monterey Peninsula of California and has been self-employed most of his working life. He got his General Contractors license in 1982. Larry has written articles on water heating and energy for various trade journals. He has taught classes on these topics for Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the California State Parks, Affordable Comfort (now Home Performance Coalition), and others. More recently he has helped create DVDs on these and related topics. He finished building an off-grid home in 2006. Designed to be very efficient, comfortable, and inexpensive, it was the 13th home to meet the Thousand Home Challenge, a competition for creating superefficient homes. For over 35 years, Larry has been involved in rehabbing rental properties for fun, profit, and the adrenalin rush.

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