The word teach spelled with blocks

“Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.” – George Bernard Shaw

This phrase was first used in a play, and is now used as a way to insult or question the competence of a teacher. I have never really thought that this statement was accurate in real life.

Have you ever tried teaching something?

It’s not easy. In fact, I dare say you learn more by teaching that by being a student. At the very least it solidifies things in your head more. Especially if you have students, like myself, who ask a ton of questions. You really have to be on your A game.

I’ve been taking TaiChi for several years. There is a beginner form that I learned when I first started. We go through it each week to keep it fresh in our brains. I know that form really well. Or at least I thought I did. Until I had to teach it one day.

When I started teaching this form to others, I had to go through each step, sometimes stopping in between steps to answer questions. I kept losing my place, having to go back through things, and just generally feeling like a failure. My students did eventually learn the form for themselves, but the first few classes weren’t pretty.

The other thing about teaching something like this is that you have to teach and think in mirror image. If you are facing your students and lifting your right arm, you have to tell them to raise their left arm so that they can follow you. If you take any type of exercise class, pay attention to this next time you are there. Or watch a YouTube video on exercising. You are doing things in mirror image of what the teacher is doing. Something that I never really thought about until I was the one who had to keep up with it all.

It’s scary at first, standing up there, everyone waiting with anticipation of what you’re going to do or say. But it does get better with time. I still get a little nervous when I teach, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was the first time.

Teaching other people helps us in many different ways.

It’s a great way to learn how to communicate better with others. It helps us to see how others may perceive our topic and learn new ways to get our ideas across. When you teach you not only have to think about how you learn, you also have to think about the many different ways that others learn. Just because you understand something doesn’t mean that you can explain it in a way that everyone around you can understand it.

It builds our confidence levels. When we get over the initial fear of being in front of people, and we find our own unique way of teaching, our confidence in ourselves goes up tremendously. We show ourselves just what we are capable of accomplishing.

It helps us to think outside of our own box. When we teach others something, they generally ask questions. If we pay attention to the questions being asked, we can find new angles, new ways of doing those things that we already do.

It helps us to learn what we’re doing more thoroughly. When you teach someone something, you have to really know your stuff. You can’t just skim over a subject and then teach it to others. You really have to study the ins and outs of your chosen lesson. Always be a student, even when you’re teaching.

It can help you with time management. If you are teaching a class that is an hour long, then you have to fit what you want to say within that hour. This is not always an easy thing to do. Once you manage it though, this skill begins to flow over into other areas of your life. You become better at knowing how long it will take to do something, and managing time better in general.

It helps us to learn to think on our feet. When people are asking you questions, you may be able to anticipate some of them. Odds are though, you won’t be able to anticipate them all. Someone will ask you a question that you never even thought of, and it can throw you off.  

Try teaching something

Teach someone else something that you already know. Or pretend you are leading a class and go through how you would teach. Sometimes we know something really well, but when it comes to teaching it to others, it’s a different story. If you take yoga classes, pretend you are teaching one. Or, teach someone you know who wants to learn. Talk them through the poses you are doing step by step.

It doesn’t just have to be an exercise class or a classroom setting. Do this with your job. Teach someone else about what you do each day at your job. Or pretend that you are teaching someone about your job.  Whether you’re a CEO or a dishwasher at a restaurant, what you do is important. You had to learn at some point how to do that job. If you were put in charge of training for your job, how would you do it? What would be the most important things that people would need to remember? How could you help them solve problems if they arise? Encourage them to ask questions of you. How can you take what you learn and apply it to your job or practice?

If you love to cook, teach someone else to make one of your favorite dishes. Don’t take it from them and do it for them. You step back, tell them what to do, and let them do it.

I remember this exercise that we did at school one time. One person would stand and give directions for making a peanut butter sandwich, while another person would do exactly what they said, and only what they said, and make the sandwich. If the person directing said, get two pieces of bread out of the bag, then the person would do it. If they said, now put peanut butter on one of the pieces of bread, then the person would have to get the peanut butter out with their hands because the director didn’t tell them to use a knife. It was an exercise in learning to be very specific about how we communicate things, in saying what we really meant. It was also an exercise in teaching someone else how to do something. How can the person learn the proper way of doing something, if we leave out half of the steps? Try it sometime with your friends or your family. See what steps each person leaves out. Even after we heard the directors miss steps, and saw the person making the sandwich using their hands, each of us that got up there seemed to forget something different.

If nothing else, this will create a greater appreciation for those teachers around you. For each class they come up with a lesson plan. They have to make sure that what they want to do fits within the time that they are given. They have to be prepared to answer the questions that may come during the class. If what they are doing requires props or supplies, they have to gather those up and have them ready.

Whatever you love to do, teach someone else to do it. It’s something that I think everyone should do at least a few times. If you are really trying to master something in life, try teaching it. I promise it will help you learn to do what you’re doing better.  

I recently heard Brandon Farris say, “Those who can’t do, don’t. Those who can do well, teach.” I like this version much better. =)