Teaching, in any form, is a voyage, during which you reach different milestones. One of the first ones, is accomplishing that level of knowledge in order to share what you have learned with certain confidence. From then on, it is about improving, learning, correcting. It is not always about the topic, but often about finding better ways to communicate, to improve techniques to explain topics that are often complex.
One of the great joys of teaching, be it a class or giving a talk is this self-learning experience. Explaining something to someone else really helps in grasping that missing link you had; that uncertainty you weren’t sure about the first time you gave that talk. The “Ah, now I understand” moment you silently think to yourself while standing in front of your audience is very gratifying. This experience can be accomplished in many ways, such as authoring a book, writing an in-depth article or a blog post.
Although you learn as you teach, it doesn’t mean however that you can stand in front of an audience, and give a talk on a subject you’re not too familiar with, hoping to pick things up as you go along. You need to obtain that certain level of knowledge, reach that first milestone. It is a responsibility you owe not only to yourself, but also to your audience, to provide them with correct and ample information. A somewhat common joking remark is: “just make sure that you know more than everyone in the room”. Although amusing, it is a great incentive to push the limits, as it’s very hard to predicate whom your audience is, and what their background holds.
But it is important to understand that it is always a journey in which you teach but also learn. We are not born experts, whatever that term might mean.
With success comes responsibility
As we teach, we improve. As we improve we accomplish goals. These goals can be the respect of our audiences, the respect of our peers. We can start being labeled as experts around certain areas. This is encouraging and can lead to greater things. Being complimented on something we are passionate about, knowing we are succeeding is a great accomplishment, something we should be proud of. As we progress, we start to reach larger audiences. We start to embark on new areas, topics and interests.
Our prior success allows us and motivates us to embark on these new ventures. We have a faithful following. Our past experience shows that we are mostly correct in our teachings and this promotes more respect from our audiences. Our opinions are now taken as authoritative.
As this happens, we often lose sight of a fundamental thing that has made us reach this milestone in our journey: pushing ourselves in understanding things. Researching before teaching. Making sure we comprehend before explaining to others.
This is damaging. In the long run, it will lead to our own demise. The same respect we gained, we lose. But in the short time, and more importantly, we can deceive our audience. We can lead people the wrong way without us fully knowing what the right way is.
We now have a great responsibility and we need to act appropriately. Our status shouldn’t give us permission to take shortcuts, to skip milestones in our journey. We got here by building up the respect on our own merits. If we care about our audience, we should respect them back.
Skipping that first milestone openly
Not always do we have the chance or the desire to reach that first milestone before sharing our knowledge. Diverse reasons can warrant us to take a different approach when embarking on the journey of teaching. We can learn in the open. We can write about things and share that knowledge as we do our own investigation.
We should learn by asking questions. We should challenge what we learn, but do so with a proper understanding of what we are challenging. We should debate. We should be open to being proven wrong and most importantly we should learn to listen to others, much the same way we listen to our own voice, that same voice the improves our own understanding.
Arrogance won’t lead us to success, but it can lead us to failure.