Flying the Podium

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits,

  • 1 Peter 3:13-19

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!.

  • Psalm 20:6-9

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

  • Psalm 120:1-2

The word that the Scriptures have in common is “answer.”  When we attend Sunday school or a Bible study, we go there to get the answers that we could not get on our own by self-study.  And sometimes, the teacher is bombarded from all sides with a wide array of misconceptions and an occasional true insight that the teacher had never thought about.  I have occasionally reached the same level of frustration as when I first taught people in an industrial setting.

My first job as an industrial instructor was to explain to all the maintenance people, from superintendent to janitor how the plant operated, down to the details in some areas.  It was a nuclear production facility, so after the introductions, I started with a lesson on nuclear physics.  My goal was not only to teach what really happened in the process, but I wished to rid them of the old wives’ tales that existed.  Probably someone explained something using a joke, and everyone believed them.  That was fine for ninety percent of those being taught, to believe the lie (or joke), but if it was your job to maintain that piece of equipment, you had to know what was going on.

In class one day, three instrument technicians attacked me about one of the wives’ tales, and they were the ones responsible for the maintenance of the equipment associated with the wrong information.  They cursed me.  They threw wadded pages of their textbook (a 150 page book that I had written) at me.  And they threatened bodily harm during the next break.  I replied, “Well, guys, this has been an amusing encounter.  I have absorbed a considerable amount of slings and arrows in my general direction.  While I have a colleague remove the arrows, y’all can take a break.”  All but the three laughed.  They were breathing heavily, still steaming.

I left by the front door and walked straight toward their superintendent’s office.  But I saw the superintendent walking toward me.  I think someone heard the shouts from the hallway and the superintendent was on his way to rescue me.  The three who meant me bodily harm were right behind me, closing in fast, but they stopped short when they saw their boss’ boss’ boss’ boss walking toward them.  I never said a word.  The superintendent told them to behave themselves.  He told them that I was NOT telling them a pack of lies and if they did not walk in step with the understanding of how that equipment worked, they would be hard pressed to ever see a pay raise unless they immediately filled out a request to be reassigned to another division.  I doubt if they took what they had learned back to the job, but they behaved themselves for the rest of that week.

As I said, I have been attacked in almost the same way in Sunday school class.  Have you ever had someone claim that one of the gnostic gospels, written in the second or third century AD, was read by Jesus when He was a baby.  (Statement as if it were fact…)  Then the attack… What yahoo decided that this gospel about Jesus that Jesus read as a baby was not good enough to be in the canon of Scripture?  The errors are obvious, just as the three instrument techs were in that industrial classroom years ago, but the belief was deeply rooted.  Change is sometimes hard and the facts sometimes require backup materials.  I chose to change the topic and not answer the question.  I sensed there was no teaching moment at that point in that setting.

All this lead in is a bit off topic when considering the title, “Flying the Podium.”  But it is actually on topic, in a way.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I took a course on classroom presentation skills in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA.  It was team taught.  The course was developed by the wife of one of the greats in instructional design.  She team taught the course with a male associate from Canada.

I learned a lot.  I cannot remember any “quotable quotes” from the course’s author, but there were two things that her associate from Canada mentioned that have stuck with me ever since.

The first was a joke: Hey!  Did you know that when Canada first became a country, they were known by three letters just like the USA?  The letters were C-N-D.  One time, someone visited the new country and asked what the three letters were.  That’s when a Canadian answered, “C-eh-N-eh-D-eh,” (the “eh” pronounced “A”).  And we’ve been Canada ever since.

That was to illustrate that colloquial speech, like a Canadian saying “Eh”, eh, should be minimized or the local colloquial speech enhanced.  Just do not say “eh” to a Canadian too often or he might think you are making fun, eh.  I will never forget teaching a class in South Carolina, when I had been a nearly life-long Southerner.  I said “You guys” only once during a three-day course, and my credibility was shot.  I should have said, “Y’all,” and they quickly let me know about it.

The other thing that the Canadian said was to “never fly the podium.”  Someone said, “Hunh?!?!”  He then illustrated.  The podium was one of those portable wooden things that you placed on a table to hold your notes.  He firmly grasped the edges of the podium, lifted it, holding the podium like a steering wheel.  He then twisted the podium to one side, shuffling his feet in the direction that he turned, and then he twisted the podium to the other side while making airplane motor noises, “Errrrrrrr!”  He flew the podium all over the room until everyone was laughing.

Then he explained:  From a physical point of view, you are limiting your mobility.  You will get stiff.  You will get muscle aches quicker.  You are constricting your upper body.  Your muscles are gripping the edges of the podium so tightly that your diaphragm cannot suck in enough air.  Your entire body suffers from the lack of oxygen, making cramps more of a problem, and especially robbing the brain of oxygen.  And you need the brain to keep the class on topic.

How does a person who is being crucified actually die?  Their lungs fill up with fluid while hanging from the nails in their hands.  They can lift themselves up by standing more erect, but then the entire weight of their body is on the nails in their feet.  The pain keeps them from doing that, so they slump back down.  That is why they broke the legs of the criminals next to Jesus, so that the fluid would build up faster and they could come off the cross before the day ended.  Jesus, however, was already dead.  In flying the podium, you are constricting the diaphragm in a similar manner.  Leave the podium behind, so that you can breathe,

Then you have the psychological aspects of flying the podium.  Who do you think you are?  If you think that you are so much more knowledgeable than the class could ever hope to be, then fly the podium.  The class will never learn from you.  Your non-verbal will speak louder than the verbal.  It is your job to transfer what is in your head, and with a Sunday school class in your heart also, to everyone else in the room.  If you are holier than they are, it will stay that way.  I have seen many learned people lose their audience by flying the podium.  They are impressing the audience as to their own brilliance and have no desire to actually teach.  Or it appears that way.  After all, if they impart their knowledge onto others, then the others are the same as the instructor and there is no ability to “lord” it over them once that happens.

If you are afraid and you need some way to keep the class from seeing your hand shaking, then when using the pointer, plant the pointer onto the screen to cut down on the shaking.  I have seen instructors slap the screen; the noise wakes up those who fell asleep, but the instructor becomes reassured that the tip of the pointer is firmly planted.  Do not hit the screen hard enough to knock it over.  Yes, that has happened, but not by me.

If you have nothing in your pockets, you can place one hand in your pocket, but only briefly.  Some people may focus on the hand in the pocket, wondering why you are doing that and what the hand is doing while in there.  If you have keys in the pocket, the class will listen to keys jingling instead of what you are saying.  Thus, the purpose for the C-eh-N-eh-D-eh joke.  Any habitual thing that can become a distraction will be a distraction.

But when you are away from the podium, the class sees you differently.  You are not closed.  You are not unapproachable.  You are not ABOVE them.  You are open.  Thus, those nasty questions mentioned above may start coming your way.  But from those nasty questions, you can have some wonderful teaching moments.  Some of the time, definitely not all, they ask the question because they are ready to learn.  Take advantage of it.

The Sunday school class that I teach has no schedule.  We could easily spill into the next school year if we do not finish.  Last week, as of when this was written, we had a couple of questions from the class that consumed the entire hour, only halfway answering the first question in the study guide with over a dozen questions remaining.  We had teaching moments aplenty.

My point, in part, is that in flying a podium, the questions may have never been asked.

And maybe that is why some people fly the podium.  They do not want the class to know that they do not have the answer.  Ahhhh, that could lead to many other posts, but as for me, I often tell the class that I may not have the best answer, but we can find a better answer by discussing it as a class amongst ourselves.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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