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As I mentioned previously, this year, I’m going back to school. Not to take classes but to teach a course at my alma mater, Fanshawe College. I did this about a decade ago and thought it was interesting, so I was excited to give it another go. Additionally, after a friend mentioned that their kid wanted to learn Python, I developed an Intro to Python course aimed at high school students that I’m teaching weekly. I thought that this would be good fodder for the State of Security. So, whenever I have something interesting to discuss, expect to find it here.

I’m not sure how it happened, but we’ve reached the end. Technically, the semester was 14 weeks, so I’m not sure where I lost a week… but we’re done. My students, assuming they passed their other courses, are now college graduates. After their final exam, I opened a class room to allow them to come in and just chat for a few minutes… a final parting conversation before they head off into the world of working every day.

While some students poked their heads in momentarily to say thank you for the course, others stayed to chat for a while. We talked about their next steps, food, celebratory drinks and pretty much anything else that came up. It was a way to have some human interaction and celebrate the conclusion of their course. I remember a couple of my professors taking us out for a beer after we finished a course. In the current state of the world, I couldn’t do that, but at least I could have a conversation.

Rather than a long diatribe, I decided to share, unsolicited of course, my top 10 list for teaching. I’m sure that full time professors everywhere will groan as they read this and that experienced teachers will laugh at my inexperience, but my students enjoyed the course, and I feel like I imparted the skills and wisdom that I want to see when hiring, so hopefully I have a unique view that makes this valuable.

10. Speak to your students like they’re people

I had so many professors, particularly part-time professors, when I was a student that wanted that sense of superiority. They were teaching to stroke their own egos and make money rather than educate you. I tried to speak to my students the same way I speak to my team. It just made sense to me.

9. Remember that the goal of an education is to have a core set of skills to build over a career

Students don’t need to graduate having experienced everything. You can teach skills that can be utilized in dozens of fields while only teaching a single subject. Technically, I taught malware analysis… but we covered Python and Assembly programming, shellcode execution, packet analysis and reverse engineering. Those skills will be applicable across many more subjects than just malware analysis.

8. Real life is important

As I said in a past post, I’ll never forgive the professor who told me my family member should have died if I wanted to rewrite a missed test. Somehow my desire to say goodbye before they passed and their surprise recovery was a bad thing… at least that’s the lesson they tried to teach me. The first thing you learn in the working world is the fact that bad things happen. The second thing you learn is how to work around the first one. Hold your students to the same standard your employer holds you to. There’s no need to feel that their college education is more important than every other aspect of their life.

7. For the students, give your professor a break

If you expect them to give you a break (see point 8), you need to afford them the same respect. If you don’t get an immediate response or your tests aren’t marked by the next day… give it a minute. You’ll get your grades or response in a reasonable amount of time.

6. Again for the students, take away the core building blocks of your education

Don’t get bogged down in the specifics. Ensure you get those foundational skills, which usually means paying attention and asking questions in the first few weeks. Speak up and use your voice. If you don’t ask a single question between the lecture and the lab, you’re responsible for your failures. Your professor will give you the knowledge, but if you don’t understand how to apply it, don’t wait for them to clarify. I always assume that no questions means you understand the task whether at work or in the classroom.

5. Last one for the students, if you don’t like what you’re being taught, ask yourself if you’re in the right program

Talk to your program coordinator. Talk to your professor. If you don’t like what you’re learning, you probably don’t want to do it for the rest of your life, so why learn it? I didn’t have a problem this time, but when I taught networking students a decade ago, they hated learning security. You can’t work in networking without understanding security… so maybe you shouldn’t go to school for networking?

5. For educational institutions, rethink the grading system

COVID-19 has brought on a new era in remote learning. Why can’t we also have a new era of grading? To teach this class, I had to map course work to learning objectives and fill out a lot of documentation. I wasn’t sure if I was teaching a class or finalizing a divorce. As long as professors teach and students learn, nothing else should matter.

4. For the schools, pay better

The salaries for full-time faculty are awful. If you want people that are highly skilled or able to truly teach these fields, you need to pay adequately. No professional or highly skilled individual is going to take a 50%+ pay cut to teach. I’m not sure why this one is so difficult, especially in a year when so many have experienced what it is like to teach for themselves. I was truly depressed when I saw the salary attached to a full-time faculty job posting. Do better.

3. Back to the professors, think about where your students want to go with their education

Are you really teaching them the right skills? Perhaps you’re a general education course and this might be a useless question, but what about specific courses? If your students are aiming at a career in cybersecurity, do you need to teach them purchasing and budgeting? While valuable skills, they are usually learned on the job and don’t reflect, in any way, the “tacked on” skills taught during a program.

2. Love what you’re teaching

If you don’t love it and aren’t fascinated by the field, don’t be there just to collect a paycheck. Your students will recognize your lack of passion and lose passion themselves. You should be excited about what you are teaching. I loved every moment of my course this year.

1. Know what you’re teaching

There’s nothing more demoralizing for students than putting someone into a role where they don’t know the subject. If you can’t answer questions without looking them up, if you can’t teach the subject without reading the slides and learning them yourself first, you probably shouldn’t teach the subject. You should be an expert in what you’re teaching, and if you’re not, you should make yourself an expert before that first day in class.

Again, I’m sure there’s a lot of naivete in that list… but that’s my take away from this year. I would love to teach again, and I’m looking forward to another opportunity to do it. I feel like I accomplished a lot and made a difference in the lives of my students… and I think that should be the goal of any professor. Thanks for reading the series!

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