People constantly ask me how they can become a wine educator (often hoping to teach WSET courses). My first response is to ask, “why do you want to teach?” The answers fall into five categories:
- I want to share what I know with others
- I think it is the logical thing to do once I get my certification, isn’t it?
- I think it would be fun
- I want to help other people grow their wine knowledge, be more confident and have more enjoyment with wine
Answers 1-4 always make me suspicious. Often, people get a certificate and just want to announce to others that they have achieved something special. These people are often the worst teachers because they pontificate rather than coach and support students.
Teaching can be fun, but it is also hard work that involves preparation, patience and consistent re-evaluation for continuous improvement. The goal is to help other people learn and grow in a way that builds knowledge, skills and the confidence to use them. Rarely is this just telling a student what they should know but rather helping them tell you what they have learned.
A good teacher balances being an entertainer, manager and knowledge sharer. Some people are natural teachers who inspire other people to want to know more, while also keeping a class on topic and on time. They can easily read individuals in the classroom and what their learning needs are. For other people developing good teaching skills takes more work. While still others probably are just not suited for teaching – even if they know a lot about wine (by the way, there is no shame in this, as wine knowledge and teaching ability are unrelated).
If you do think you might like to be a wine educator there are some steps, you can take to build your skills and see if you are suited to the role. I suggest starting small with the process here:
- Teach Others Informally
Start by hosting a fun in-home wine tasting party. Pick 3-5 wines you like and create a plan on what you want to tell your friends about them. Think about what they might want to know and what their mood and mind set will be (likely to have fun, learn something without being overwhelmed and to enjoy each other’s company). What nuggets of information can you give them that they will be able to see when they taste the wine and then use in the future? Then ask for honest feedback – what did they like, what did they think you could have done better? Also, be kind to yourself. You will be nervous and that is OK. Try to do these wine tasting events regularly until you feel you and your audienceis really enjoying them.
- Ask to Train Other People at Work
Regardless of whether you work in the wine industry, look for opportunities to train co-workers, new hires or educate customers in whatever you do. Create session plans for formal training and find means to gauge whether your audience was engaged and learned. For consumers, think about how you build a relationship. For any person you want to get good at empathizing, understanding their needs and ability to understand new information.
- Teach a Fun Consumer Wine Course
Think about a one-night short wine class that you might enjoy teaching – but more importantly, that you think individuals might sign up for. Plan out how the session would go down to the minute (build in time for extended tasting). Then seek out an adult education center and propose it to them. Have a budget for the wine and be prepared at first to possibly offer your time for free. Once you have a scheduled course, teach it first to a few friends or family so you can get the timing down and work out kinks that didn’t show up on paper. Think about teachers you enjoyed learning from. What did they do? Can you emulate their approach in any way? Keep teaching these classes and get and be open to feedback – It is the only way you can improve.
- Co-Teach a WSET or Other Certification Class
When you feel that you have developed good teaching skills – that students are engaged by your style, that you can control a room and manage time and that participants are actively learning from you – ask a WSET APP or other wine certification program if you can teach part of an entry level course. When the opportunity arrives do your homework. Ask about the class dynamic, the classroom and review the session plan with whoever you are sharing the class with. Then practice at home before the actual session. After the class, think about what went well and what did not. Then speak honestly with your co-teacher and express what you felt and really listen to what they thought.
Be honest with yourself about both your skills and your enjoyment level when teaching. If you don’t really love doing it, your class/audience won’t be engaged or happy either. You may find that the fun non-certification classes are more what you like doing. You might find the whole process is just not for you. Or you may find that you can inspire other people in a way that makes both you and them really happy!