I often hear that the most important profession is that of the teacher: those ever-encouraging pedagogues who lead us through our ABCs and teach us how to solve for x—among many other things—and it’s a hard sentiment to argue with; we wouldn’t have doctors, musicians, engineers, or journalists if it weren’t for those that helped them along the way.
As individuals, teachers help us to find ourselves and plant the seeds of a fulfilling and rewarding existence. As a society, teachers provide us with a common language for which to transfer our knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and shared goals. Without teachers, there would be no self-actualization, there would be no progress.
Which is why I want you to be one.
Now, I’m not saying you’re obligated to change the world, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you need to get a job at your local public school.
Maybe you get faint at the thought of standing at the front of a classroom, or maybe you’re not great with children. That’s okay; fortunately, there are plenty of others willing and able to take up the cause.
Still, be a teacher.
Don’t take your education, however formal or informal, for granted. Share your knowledge and unique experiences with as many people as you can, as often as you can.
Even if the thought of helping shape someone’s worldview or knowing that you’ve been a small part of someone’s personal growth doesn’t get you excited, be a teacher.
1. Learn how to learn
Learning is a skill, and much like when developing any other skill, we often benefit from scrutinising the performances of others. Unfortunately, most of us don’t take the time to reflect on how we or our peers learn because, well, we’re too busy learning ourselves. That’s where teaching comes in.
As a teacher, you have the unique opportunity to witness learning at its best and worst.
Next time you find yourself sharing your skills with others, be aware of those that seem to assimilate new ideas and knowledge effortlessly as well as those that really struggle to grasp core concepts.
What are they doing differently? And how do their strategies compare to your approach to learning?
Experiment with different learning styles and try new things; keep doing what works and throw out the rest. Repeat.
Since I started paying more attention to how my peers learn and incorporating new ideas into my own learning process, I’ve found myself picking up new skills much quicker than before.
2. Become an adaptive communicator
In the past when I’ve had the opportunity to practice giving presentations or speeches, it’s been a fairly static affair. I give my talk, the audience asks questions, I (possibly) get some feedback, the end.
Over time, I’ve gotten reasonably good at keeping my nerves in check to the point where I’m (somewhat) comfortable in front of a group of strangers. I’ve still got a long way to go, but my presentations are much better than when I’d walk out on stage a shivering ball of sweat in the past.
However, it wasn’t until I started instructing labs as a teaching assistant that I realized how poor I was as an adaptive communicator.
As an instructor I was tasked with making sure every one of my students went home with the knowledge required to complete each week’s lab assignment. It didn’t matter how often I rehearsed my seminar or the amount of time that went in to crafting my lesson plan, if even one student didn’t understand what was going on, it was up to me to find a way to get my message across.
Teaching forces you to think on your feet, to pivot when things go wrong, and adjust to your audience on the fly. If your message isn’t getting through, you’re going to know immediately; more than that, you’re going to have to learn how to adapt spontaneously.
3. Open yourself up to new ideas, experiences, and connections
Not only will you learn a great deal about yourself and gain valuable communication skills, but the more you teach, the more you’ll find that others are willing to share their knowledge and skills with you.
I’ve been a mentor to a number of students while at university, and I can’t recall a single instance where I didn’t end up gaining just as much, of not more, from the experience than what I was able to share with my mentees.
Teaching is the ultimate networking tool. It will expose you to people and organizations you’d never otherwise have the opportunity to connect with. It helps to establish your credibility as a communicator, as a teacher, and as an expert in whatever subject you happen to be teaching.
So, be a teacher.
Throughout each of our days, we are often presented with opportunities to teach, and whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, many of us already teach on a daily basis.
Take advantage of these opportunities to reach out, offer advice, or just point someone in the right direction.
Whether you call yourself a teacher, mentor, tutor, coach, or just a friend offering help be deliberate about it. Seek out as many opportunities to inspire and be inspired.
And if for nothing else, do it for yourself. Do it to improve and connect.
Be a teacher; even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher.