To teach his own


Someday, I might be a teacher.

I think of it as my default second career. My dad was a teacher, my mom almost one.

It’s the hardest job in the world, and I’m not sure I measure up.


My life so far has been journalism. A noble if somewhat thankless career path, one littered with burnout cases and takeout containers and paystubs missing a zero or three.

I’ve been fortunate to learn a little bit more each day in my chosen field. The learning didn’t stop once I stopped going to classes. I’ve relied on colleagues, mentors, seminars, books and experience to teach me how to be a better journalist, even a better leader.

And I’ve been equally fortunate to pass those things along. That’s more than a fair trade. Sometimes, people in a newsroom don’t really have to patience to listen to me explain how to crop a photo in our archaic pagination program, or how to elicit information from a reticent source. But I plowed ahead.

In preparation for a possible career in the classroom, I took all of one education course in college. The Art of Teaching. Yeah, it’s a real course and everything.

A valuable lesson from that class was that everyone is a teacher.

Seems simple enough.

We spend much of our lives teaching others: the right way to do the dishes, how to tie your shoes, why it’s important to vote, standing up for yourself, Sunday school classes, a new song, an old shortcut.

And we don’t even think about it. No lesson plan, no testing, no homework. It’s a basic method: Tell, demonstrate, have the student try it out. Repeat until taught.

The student may have questions. He may become frustrated easily, because it’s a difficult skill, or his teacher has explained something poorly. He may be completely unmotivated or unable physically or mentally to learn the task.

It’s a wonder we learn anything at all.

When we teach others, the most important quality is patience. I’ve been in situations where I felt completely stupid because I wasn’t getting it. Maybe it was the teacher’s fault, maybe it was mine. But I remember how inadequate I felt and try not to punish my students.

That means explaining something again. (Repetition builds understanding. Repetition builds understanding.). It means not sounding irritated while explaining something again. It means being creative in helping someone understand a new concept.

Going over the steps reveals holes in my knowledge. That’s a good opportunity to fill in the gaps. When we do things out of habit or routine, we fail to understand why we take those steps. Maybe we’re overlooking a better, faster, cheaper way. Maybe we don’t even need to do it.

If a student can eventually teach someone else the same lesson, well, it’s obvious: The student has become the teacher. We have liftoff.

We’re not smart because we know things. But we are smart when we can share our knowledge effectively, turning on the light in others.

Like everyone else, I’m already a teacher. But someday, I might be a teacher with lesson plans and papers to grade and young minds to thump. Easily the hardest job in the world.

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More on teaching: Everyone learns differently


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