Teach to Learn

First written on June 10, 2011

3 min. read

Many of my friends are teachers, children of teachers or people with a general disposition toward helping out others to learn stuff. For a while it puzzled me that I would somehow associate naturally with people like that. As I went through school, I kept thinking that you had to be a special kind of masochist to be willing to come back behind the bars (that’s really how I saw it) to try to shove some sense into the bunch of ungrateful bastards that surrounded me. And I didn’t exclude myself from the blame. Most of the time, I either didn’t want to learn, didn’t care or wanted to learn about anything except what was taught in school. And while I still believe there is something fundamentally wrong about classical education through general knowledge courses, I’ve recently realized quite inadvertently that I’m turning into a teacher myself.

There were hints along the way. As soon as I started making websites during my last year of middle school, I became addicted to sharing things with the word, even if that world consisted of 10 random visitors and 20 search bots. When I became billingual after teaching myself English through tv shows (mainly), movies and books, I had this urge to try and help people around me (in France) to learn to stop being afraid of their lousy accents. Shame is one of the worst barriers to knowledge.

Finally more recently, as I was explaining a concept to a fellow student at Full Sail who was much earlier in the cursus than I was at the time, one of my favorite instructors looked at me and asked me if I had ever considered teaching. I was a little surprised by the question, then I realized what he meant. Teaching there, at Full Sail. I had never even considered it before, it flew completely past my radar, and somehow the thought felt right.

Since then I’ve noticed that every time I explain a design concept, an object-oriented principle, or one of the tennet of skepticism I somehow become almost instantly more at ease with the topic I just attempted to convey to another person. This practice of breaking down knowledge to its core essentials and bring it to the level of a specific person with specific biases and preconceptions is addictive.

I think I’m a slow learner, and while it’s disadvantage in many aspects it allows me to somehow remember better than some people the stumbling blocks I struggle with as I was learning a concept. While it doesn’t automatically make me a better teacher since the explanation matters, the ability to empathize with a student facing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle is something invaluable in an educational setting.

I believe many educated people forget how much they struggled to understand difficult concepts as soon as they do understand them. I vaguely remember reading about a psychological study outlining how this functioned. Basically, people have a tendency to forget how long they failed to grasp something and what exactly prevented from doing so. And with this post-success amnesia comes a general attitude of slight disdain toward people who seem to struggle more than you remember struggling yourself. It’s yet another cognitive failibility of the human mind but I think it explains why so many accomplished scholars make poor teachers.