Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What do we learn by teaching?

A string of recent events in my life have led me to ask what do we learn by teaching? There are a lot of general answers to this, and I'm sure there's a lot of study about it. First I'd like to share some anecdotal evidence of things I've learned by teaching.

The first thing I noticed when I started doing high performance driving instruction was how much I learned about how to be a better driver from teaching. One of the main things is the most obvious, and that is it simply reinforces those things you already know. You hear yourself telling your pupil what you want from them, and it helps solidify those things in your own mind. Their questions and struggles might be things you've questioned or struggled with yourself. Even if not, sometimes it's enlightening to see what others do struggle with and relate that to how you might have been struggling and not even realized it. But either way, this all relates to getting better yourself at the things you know how to teach.

Another thing we learn by teaching is what we don't know. Sometimes we can teach things we can't actually DO ourselves, but most of the time that's much more difficult. If you can't do it yourself then you find a need to learn it quickly, or at the very least recognize it's a skill you lack and lack the ability to teach and might want to learn before you take on another student. But teaching can be a good way to learn your own shortcomings. Well, it's good for the teacher, maybe not so much for the student!

Something else we learn by teaching are valuable attributes like patience. Coaching kids on sports teams is really a lot of teaching, and it's an environment where you are required to have a lot of patience. It's really not acceptable to do it if you can't have the patience to keep from getting angry or upset when the students don't get it as fast as you'd like...or worse, simply won't bother to learn it because practice is too close to bed time, they haven't had supper yet, or school was simply a complete drain on their cognitive ability for the day.

Okay, so those are some things you learn from teaching. Today I got some nice praise by being a good student, and that got me to thinking about why I might actually be a good student. Now, don't get me wrong, I did pretty well in school. I attribute that to a reasonable IQ along with a fear of getting in trouble for not doing what was expected of me (for the most part). But what about now? Is it just those things? Is there something more? Yes, I think there is something more. Something much more. There has to be something more, because I think I'm a much better student now than I ever was. I think that difference comes from my experience as, you guessed it, a teacher.

Having had a variety of experience now as a teacher (and no, I'm not claiming to be very good at being a teacher...far from it, but that's not the point here), I know the feeling you get when a student has an epiphany. I want my teachers to have that. But not necessarily because I just love my teachers or anything sappy (I mean I do, I do love you teachers!), but also because that epiphany feels good. It's a mutual thing. I know they are in it at least partly because they enjoy that feeling of seeing a student succeed, and I'm in it because I want to succeed, too. So while I'm only doing things I want to do and be good at, I also enjoy seeing my teacher have that sense of success that comes with me succeeding. It's really what we're both in it for, after all.

Okay, so this is no great revelation. But what I couldn't help but wonder is how do we get our kids to become teachers themselves at an EARLY age? How do we maybe give them some of that experience of being successful teachers so they'll better understand what their own teachers go through? I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear yours. What I know is that my kids often learn things that I don't know and next time that happens instead of saying "show me" I'm going to try to demand that they "teach me." We talked at the dinner table tonight about the difference in showing someone something and teaching someone something, and we're doing to try to adhere to that. And when they struggle with the teaching part, we'll try to help them. Nobody just inherently knows how to teach. It's a skill. But it's a skill that can be built at an early age, that much I'm sure. Maybe not all the intricacies of being a great college professor, but enough basics that they can more effectively help their peers, siblings, and at times, the parents.

It's never too late to learn, and often teaching is learning.