Lessons from Teaching

I recently graduated from QUT for the second time. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been back to uni since I finished up my honours thesis. Having completed this first part of my career/learning journey (and being amidst the second phase with starting at a professional services firm as a graduate), I’ve had the opportunity to return to university. Not to be taught, but to teach.

Being provided the opportunity to teach was a big achievement for me. Being a student, I found my tutors inspiring. This is what I believe made me want to be able to teach. And I’m lucky to have the opportunity to teach.

But teaching is quite a different thing from being taught. It is a different experience. A different perspective. A new way of thinking.

Teaching makes you think twice.

More than once in my class have I had to pause to think carefully to answer a student’s question. This creates a bit of a tough situation. Having the responsibility of knowledge transfer means you need to know your stuff, and you need to know it well. Regardless of how trained you are, sometimes you are thrown a curveball. These times make you stand back and assess knowledge gaps and development opportunities. What feels like a tough situation turns into an opportunity to grow.

Teaching makes you think in more ways than one.

Oftentimes, the knowledge you take for granted as a professional is difficult to transfer. This isn’t because you don’t know your stuff. It is likely due to a gap in how you understand something and how your student is able to conceptualise the topic at hand. This scenario forces you to think in new ways to effectively explain content, in turn forcing you to reassess how the topic is structured. The imperative to explain the topic to your students turns into an opportunity to look at something in a new way, which leads to benefits in day-to-day professional practice.

Teaching makes you think more deeply.

In addition to what I mention in my first point, students often have surprising and unexpected questions. These questions challenge your current thinking. This need to assess what you know makes you reconsider what you know and how deeply you know it. These challenges and reassessments point out areas to explore topics further as both an educator and as a professional.

Teaching makes you appreciate what it is to be a student.

While you are a student, you know what it is like to be a student. Teaching makes you see what it is like to be a student. Standing at front-of-class gives you a perspective on how tough and exhausting it can be to study. It forces you to think “what is important as a student?”. Knowing the key points to get across is most of the battle of educating. Getting it right lightens the load for students, and reinforces one’s knowledge.

Teaching makes you appreciate what it is to teach.

This may sound like a recursive nonsense statement. But it is true. Teaching is the only way to really understand the rigour of tertiary pedagogy. Studying is one thing, teaching another. The two must go hand in hand to reinforce and develop the other.

What new perspectives have you gained when having to teach someone something new, in or out of the classroom?