Those who can't learn, teach

One of my colleagues jokingly mocks me for teaching thing I haven’t learnt yet. He says that usually people learn something, use it for a number of years, get good at it and then finally teach it to others. That sounds great. I look forward to doing that! Right now, I’m not in a position to do that because for most things I do I’m starting out. And I prefer to start by teaching.

I love teaching because I love learning. I’m just not always good at learning. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I can get up almost every day, for days on end and study my maths or meditate or programme. Usually not though. If I say I’m going to teach something, that’s when I get some motivation. Standing in front of others, having them go quiet and listen to me muddle through an explanation, that’s when I realise I’d like to teach it better, to know it better, and to spend time figure it out.

Saying as much as I know about something is often an excellent start. And so, while I love those times when I can motivate myself to sit with a textbook for the joy of learning, I never feel I learn quite as well as when I have to teach. Teaching others requires having a clarity of understanding beyond what I can trick myself into accepting. It’s just not so easy to trick others.

And teaching offers me more than motivation. Teaching before I am comfortable in a subject helps me remember that it’s okay not to know everything. Often, if teaching in the right environment, people will be willing to step up and teach me, so long as they’re getting some benefit and joy from the experience too.

Learning with others can be brilliant. If you can offer them something valuable - even just a little bit of useful structure or content - while obviously still trying to find your way through, then you can be surprised how encouraged people can be to join in.

This is a note for my future self: When you feel like you cannot learn, try offering to teach something. Give yourself some time to prepare, but a week or two of notice and a day or three of prep is usually enough. If it’s only a 10 minutes talk or one hour class you probably cannot teach more content than you can learn in a full day’s worth of thinking.