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Mares: Training The Trainer

Recently - and quite by coincidence - I’ve become involved in three different projects specifically designed to teach some beekeepers how to teach other beekeepers.

The first grows out of political and economic necessity. Vermont has roughly 2,000 beekeepers, though only a hand-full keep bees for a living. And because their livelihoods depend on having good bees, these professionals rely on state inspectors more than the rest of us. However, bees fly up to three miles for forage – and they mingle. If an amateur has sick bees, they can infect a neighbor’s healthy bees, whether that neighbor is a hobbyist or professional. And since state budget cuts and added responsibilities have reduced our state inspector’s “bee” time drastically, if we want to have healthy bees, we beekeepers are going to have to take on some new responsibilities ourselves. So we’re building a network of trained, modestly-paid “mobile mentors” who will travel around the state to assume some of the hive-side teaching duties that were formerly the state inspector’s.
The second project comes through my board membership on a regional beekeeping organization that covers some 25 states. The Eastern Apicultural Society has a membership of serious amateurs, part-timers and a sprinkling of professional beekeepers. (The Vermont Beekeepers Association hosted 750 EAS members at UVM last summer.) In their respective states, EAS members hold local workshops, one-day or two-day workshops or short-courses on a full range of beekeeping topics. But at the next EAS conference in August, our board’s Education Committee will put on an all-day workshop that will be as much about pedagogy as technical beekeeping information. Topics will include: How to run a bee school... how to combine theory and practice… how to design and give a test… how NOT to give a bad lecture… and how to engage the entire class.

The third project is international. As a member of a local non-profit, I’m working to deliver beekeeping information to coffee cooperatives in Latin America , who can’t survive on their coffee income alone. We hope that the income these farmers make from honey will fill in some of the gaps in their family livelihoods. Some coffee cooperatives have already begun to add beekeeping to their economic “portfolios.” And we’re building a Spanish-language on-line forum of experts and technicians to exchange information and techniques of teaching. I like to call us “information arbitrageurs,” sharing ideas and practices laterally, not vertically. We now have forum members from eight different countries.
These over-lapping experiences recall my own experience of getting a teaching certificate twenty five years ago. That program’s focus was upon how to teach, not what to teach. I knew history, my chosen field.
But it takes training to be comfortable in front of a class and to be able to share what you know. It takes training to focus on the information and not on yourself. It takes training to engage the students and not simply “stand and deliver.” It takes training to teach as you would be taught!

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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