Accordingly, if I'm looking for a great teacher, then one of my first requirements is that I need to be able to understand what they are talking about. I have reached a point in my life where if I find I do not understand something, I no longer blame myself. I blame the lousy teacher.
As a political scientist, for example, I am opposed to the deliberate obscurantism of philosophers like Jacques Derrida. In the New York Review of Books article "An Exchange on Deconstruction" (February 1984), John Searle offered one of my favorite comments on deconstruction:
. . . anyone who reads deconstructive texts with an open mind is likely to be struck by the same phenomena that initially surprised me: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity, by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial.
I have also found it useful to seek teachers who have succeeded in the fields where I want to see some success myself. To be sure, a track-record of extraordinary success does not necessarily make someone a great teacher since teaching is an entirely different skill set. Nevertheless, if I want to learn about grant writing, I'm not going to study under someone who has not won many grants or someone who has stopped writing them all together to focus instead on teaching. I need someone who is still active in the profession, who is also aware of the current trends and other significant contemporary issues in the field.
Unfortunately, you may not have access to a great teacher in your community. Accordingly, I think the next best thing is to create your own best possible teacher. You can do this by buying at least three books on the topic of grant writing and then reading all of them in order. The trick is to look for the common themes which appear in each book. For example, if all three books say it is important to follow the funder's directions, then you can be confident that this is a major point to reflect on and remember. If a key idea appears in only one of these volumes, you may be well advised to write it off as an individual idiosyncrasy for now.
Along these lines, I prefer to have a teacher who has produced a book or a workbook. Although I get a lot of good information from listening and taking notes from an expert in the field, ultimately I have found that I learn best if I have something to read. I need to be able to study an idea, review it, and reread it later when I'm in a bind. I just cannot do that with a typical classroom lecture. I have also found that I need to keep that book around for a while as a reference tool. Too often I have found that my memory of what was written, particularly the step-by-step procedures they recommended does not stay locked in my memory banks. I need to go back to the source and refresh my memory to really grasp what I need to do. So, I've found it pays to work with an instructor who also has written materials to distribute to the class.