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Teaching is the ultimate form of learning

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
3 min read
Teaching is the ultimate form of learning

There's an old saying from George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 stage play Man and Superman: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

As kids, we used this line to poke fun at teachers we didn't like. Implying that teaching was a second-best vocation. Something you resorted to if you didn’t make it in another profession.

Little did I know how mistaken I was.

Write of Passage cohort 9 came to a close two weeks ago. After taking part as a student in the previous two cohorts, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a mentor this time round. After five weeks of teaching others about my approach to writing, I have a newfound respect for teachers and lecturers. The line should be: those who can, teach.

The merits of teaching

1. Explaining something deepens your own understanding

Practice beats theory. Want to learn about writing? Start writing. A course might get you going, but the best lessons will be learned from sitting down and publishing your work.

If you want to go one step further, teach others about your process. Teaching is the ultimate form of learning.

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." – Albert Einstein

Being a teacher was a gruelling, but rewarding exercise.

I wanted to do right by my students and share the lessons I've learned on my journey. I spent 8+ hours prepping for each of my lessons. I revisited old essays. I tested my ideas with sparring partners. I deconstructed my writing process to see what works and what doesn’t.

Documenting my process helped the students, but it also helped me get solid on my own principles:

  • Teaching exposes gaps in your thinking.
  • When you give advice to others, you better live up to your own standards. You need to walk the talk.

2. You have to give to receive

The lessons that resonated the most had a personal element tied to an overall concept.

In Storytelling Reframe, I spoke about my setbacks with job hunting this year. In the lesson on Luck Surface Area, I told them how I struggled to promote my work as effectively as my colleagues when I was younger.

The personal stories drove the point home. It gave the students something tangible to connect to the lesson. Something to remember.

3. Sharing means caring & caring takes energy

Opening up also takes a lot out of you.

At some point, around week 4, I hit the wall. It was similar to reaching kilometres 33-35 when you run a marathon. My battery was empty. My brain felt heavy. I didn't know where my next idea would come from.

Enter Michael Sklar with the perfect pick-me-up:

Finally - a big thank you to all of my students!

5 weeks, 5 lectures, 67 students and one goal - to build resilient writing habits. Thanks to Terri Lonier for capturing this screenshot.

Teaching is a very rewarding experience. While I was the one sharing my writing lessons, I learned even more from my mentor group.


John Nicholas Twitter

Actuary and creator.

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