Do any of you teach?  You’ve probably run into The Helper.  Or, as known to the rest of us, “God help me, they’re in my class”.

The person who knows everything you’re teaching, but rather than get a class of their own, prefers to attend yours and comment endlessly on everything, offering advice, answering questions for you, and generally making everyone wish they would lie down and die right then and there.  They divide into two kinds – the one that wants to impress you, and the one that wants to show everyone else that they’re as knowledgable as you.

I did not ask for help, I don’t need help, and 99 times out of 100, it’s actually no help at all.   Don’t.  Just don’t.  If I need help, I’ll ask for it.  If you want to impress me, take what I’m teaching and turn it around into something wonderful.  If you want to show everyone else you’re as knowledgeable as me, teach your own class.  Find your own students, AND DON’T CONFUSE MINE WITH IRRELEVANT INFORMATION.

Seriously, if you’ve ever felt the need to help any more than “come sit here”, “here’s a pencil”, or “she said do it this way”, shut up.  The teacher doesn’t need an assistant, a co-teacher, or an echo.

There are also reasons why this behaviour is bad that have nothing to do with offending the teacher:

1.  You disrupt the flow of the class.  If you think the teacher has forgotten to mention something important, wait until the end of the class and ask about it – don’t just jump in and start talking in the middle of an explanation of something else.  The teacher may be coming to it, or it may not be relevant to this class.  Starting a big discussion about tangential information takes time out of the class, excludes the other students, and wastes everyone’s time.  It doesn’t make you look smart, it makes you look like a jerk.  Especially if you use that “I is naow the teeechurrrr!!!” voice.  It’s disrespectful to the other students.

2.  You will probably confuse the other students.  Bringing up information that is not relevant, or worse, wrong, means that the students are now wondering what they should be paying attention to; was the class about left-handed widgets vis-a-vis the last days of Tsarism, or has it become a class about the economic conditions that led to the storming of the Bastille as a result of elitist widget-maker conspiracies?  And was Marat stabbed in the bath, or was he brained by a widget while reciting poetry naked to Marie Antoinette?  What the fuck?  The teacher has a plan for the class (side note:  Teachers, you should always have a plan for your class), and if they haven’t shared it with you beforehand, they don’t want you to help.

3.  Too much information is worse than no information.  I see this one particularly in fighting – one person is talking to/teaching another, and some random person comes up to “help”.  What was a session between two people has now become a discussion group, and it only gets worse from there.  It is extremely unlikely that random Joe has anything useful to add to a discussion about a fight they neither participated in nor witnessed; don’t jump in.  The teacher knows who to ask for opinions; unless the fighter asks for feedback, don’t offer.  This also applies to one-on-one discussions with artisans; I don’t care how interested you are, don’t butt in to a conversation unless both parties make it absolutely clear that your input is welcome.  If you just jump in and start offering random blobs of knowledge, the student will get confused about what they’re supposed to do; should they be concentrating on stabbing with widgets, or should they be throwing the widget in a manner that completely contradicts what they were just told to do?  Respect the teacher, respect the student.  “Help” is not help if all it does is show off how much you think you know.

The way to help effectively:

In a Class:  If you think there is something the teacher missed, wait until the end of class to make sure.  Make a note to yourself to ask about the issue in the Q&A at the end, and ask respectfully then.  Ask, don’t tell!  Sample question:  “When you were talking about left-handed widgets, you said that the worldwide widget conglomerate eventually led to the collapse of Tsarist Russia; is there any evidence that the widget conspiracy had anything to do with the French Revolution?”  This leaves open the opportunity for the teacher to either expand upon the idea or to say that there is no evidence as such, and the whole idea was a put-up job by the editors of the Wikipedia entry on widgets.  The bonus in this method is that if you turn out to be wrong, you won’t look stupid, since you didn’t state it as fact, and if you’re right, you’ve given the teacher a graceful way to recover, and they’ll like you for it (and be impressed by your knowledge and tact).

In One-on-one Conversation:  If you know lots about the subject two people are discussing, read body language, and since you’re kind of eavesdropping anyway, try to learn before you say anything whether this is a private discussion between teacher and student, or whether the floor is open to anyone with input.  Such key phrases as “I want you to concentrate on this particular thing”, and “Fight/work with only certain people so you get the maximum benefit” are big massive clues that this is not the time to jump in with your experience with left-handed widget-fu.  On the other hand “Talk with lots of people to get a range of opinions” is a clear sign that your words will be welcome.

…Even so, don’t just jump in with “This is how you do it!”.  Start by introducing yourself.  Mention that you heard they were interested in left-handed widget throwing.  Say “I am interested in widgets myself!”; and “are you interested in chatting with me about widgets sometime?  Now?”.  Don’t be offended if they say no; you might have misinterpreted what you overheard while pretending to be interested in the 12th century Polish widget embroidering display on the next table.  Respect the wishes of the person you’re trying to help; maybe they know of your work and want to go in a different direction, but don’t know how to politely tell you so, or maybe they are awed by your widget ability, and want to get their act together so you won’t think they’re a moron.  Be sensitive to their reaction, and trim your teaching sails accordingly – they may not have time for a full lecture now, but would be encouraged by a quick “I like your work, let’s get together when you’re not on your way to pick up your kids from day care”.

Help is a funny thing; sometimes it’s welcome, sometimes it’s not, and it’s not always clear when and which (though helping the teacher teach?  Always not welcome.  You can rely on that one).  In any case, situational awareness and respect for everyone involved means you’ll never be The Helper.

Thus endeth the tirade.


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