Why I teach

I teach because I used to have a hard time learning. The traditional way of learning, or rather teaching in academia, is a rigid, sterile and unnatural system of introducing information for the sake of memorization.

You cannot teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. A great teacher inspires learning. This is done with experience. Experience in the information era is often mistaken for someone who has read a lot of books on a topic.

But that is merely half of the equation, though it is often sold as the entire package. Experience comes from action, from toiling with the ideas extracted from books. Experience is cultivated in the trenches of the field, not in books or lectures.

Experience is about telling war stories. The students learn through stories just as much as the teacher learns through the student’s questions. It is a matter of creating energy. Momentum builds as the teacher captivates the student’s attention through stories. Learning happens in this space, where the student is inspired to learn and the teacher is constantly feeding that momentum.

With experience comes the commitment to not waste time. There is nothing worse than frivolous tasks, especially under the guise of education. This is because most “teachers” don’t consider inspiration and retention. Where there is no inspiration, there is no education. There are no boring topics, just boring teachers. This is why teaching is a passion. Passion is contagious. You remember feelings before you remember information.

How much of your favorite book do you remember? Most likely around 1%. We don’t retain the significant majority of what we are taught or what we think we learn. Unless you are passionate and apply the lessons, then you didn’t truly learn it and you don’t actually know it.

But the responsibility is on the students as well. When the teacher does the work of creating momentum, it is up to the student to harness that energy. “Will this be on the test?” is an insult to the student and the teacher. It is an invitation to tune out as much as it is a signal to the teacher that their intentions are unclear. No one is off the hook in that statement.

Education is about producing action, not memorizing information. The knowledge that is embedded in information doesn’t crystallize without application. We learn so that we can serve, and when we pretend that it is anything else, we do violence to the education process.

The worst lies we tell our children is that learning only takes place in the classroom and it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a valuable education.  

Academia enables vagueness by teaching the art of fluffing. We should be teaching the art of being succinct. This makes better thinkers and therefore creates a better society.

A great teacher can explain a concept in the simplest way possible. As Richard Feynman has espoused, understanding a topic requires explaining it to a child so that a child may understand.

I teach because I am that child. I see the child in my students. To see the child doesn’t mean we don’t grow up, it simply means that there are parts of us that never change and will always be accessible. A great teacher understands that. I strive to be a great teacher.

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