You’re standing to the front of the room at the beginning of the course day, skimming the room as you’re about to start introductions when your eyes lock with one of your learners. Then you feel it – warmth, heat, that frisson of excitement …
Unfortunately that’s not what this article is about. Sorry to get your hopes up. That’s my inner romance novelist rearing her head to reel you in. What I’m actually talking about is when one of your learners is someone who you know very well, personally.
This is something that happened to me earlier this year. My husband was interested in earning the BCS Practitioner Certificate in Agile. There’s only 1 UK provider of that qualification – and I am their trainer for public courses. No way around it. He was going to be in my class.
He was adamant that he did not want anyone else to know we were married during the 2 days as he was worried that they would treat him differently and he might not be as included in the break and lunchtime conversations. I agreed to help him feel more comfortable.
But, as trepidatious as he felt, so did I! I was very conscious of giving him the same experience any other participant would have. Too much attention and I would risk putting him under the spotlight and making him uncomfortable, as well as making the other learners feel that I had favourites and was giving special treatment.
Yes, I am an experienced professional in the classroom but you can be subconsciously drawn to people you know when it comes to eye contact and focus more intently on them, whether you mean to or not – so there was a need to be more conscious.
And then of course there’s the converse situation to worry about. Sometimes when you try hard not to play favourites, you end up going the other way and coming across harsher to the person you know or singling them out by giving less attention. It’s a fine line.
I was also worried about giving the anonymity game away in simple ways like saying “What about this?” or asking him to share a relevant story – something I wouldn’t know about a stranger.
What helped was visualising how the day would work and reminding myself over to “Act like he’s a stranger, like you have never met him before. You don’t know his story, history or background”.
At the end of the 2 day course, before heading to the pub, we did let everyone know we were married. I wish I had taken a photo of the looks on their faces! They were absolutely gobsmacked. And that in itself was the best feedback, letting me know that I managed it very successfully.
What are your top tips for managing learners in the classroom that you know well and maybe even love?