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Improvement Through Teaching

June 22, 2017

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in various forms of teaching. I say fortunate because I find teaching immensely rewarding, and I do believe that it is rather undervalued, much to the misfortune of both teachers and students.

Some of my experiences in teaching have been in physical activities. For example, I once ran a martial arts club for a couple of weeks when the owner (a close friend who was one of my instructors during my younger years) went on holiday. However, I’ve also been involved in more traditional teaching as a university lecturer and tutor.

Something that has become clear to me through my experiences is that teaching can be a great way to learn. When you have to teach someone who knows nothing or very little about a subject, then you are forced to make sure that your own knowledge base is both current and correct. If you don’t properly understand a concept, idea, or technique, then you’re not going to have much success in teaching someone else about it.

Consider something as simple as how to throw a proper jab. The actual mechanics of throwing a proper jab can be broken down into several steps. A good instructor is able to properly convey to their student not only what each step involves but also how the steps fit together to produce the proper result.

But so many martial artists get used to throwing jabs without ever really thinking about proper technique. Having to teach someone who doesn’t know how to throw a proper jab is an excellent way to get the instructor to refocus on proper technique. After all, breaking a jab down into different steps doesn’t just involve the student going through those steps. The instructor has to be able to demonstrate those steps to their student.

Factorisation (from mathematics) is another good example of how having to teach others can lead to improvement. Factorisation is something that I’m quite familiar with due, in large part, to having done a large amount of mathematics in not only high school but also university. However, when I started tutoring the children of some family friends who were struggling with maths, I had an interesting experience.

I’ve never really had to worry too much about how to do factorisation. Once the concept was explained to me and I did some examples, it didn’t take me very long to automatise the processes involved. However, the people I’m tutoring aren’t so good at automatising things like factorisation. If they were, then they wouldn’t need help with maths.

To help them, I looked into all of the different ways to approach factorisation. I ended up learning all of them and trying them one by one with my students until they found the method that best suited them. They didn’t end up choosing the method that I used, but that’s part of what made the whole thing so fascinating. I had a way of doing factorisation, but it wasn’t one my students could really use because they couldn’t do as many of the operations in their head as I could. Trying to force my method of doing it on them would have been disastrous. Instead, I did what a good teacher should: I identified different methods and helped my students learn the one that best fit with their abilities.

Now, the time may come when they feel confident using the method that I do (it’s faster). If that happens, then I’ll gladly teach them my approach. The most important thing is that they have a method that works for them, and it wasn’t one they were able to learn in class because with so many other students in the classroom their teacher simply did not have the time to individually approach all of them about different methods. Moreover, I learned all of those other methods too. I might not need them, but it’s certainly better to have them.

I feel that writing is much the same. Do you know what good dialogue is? Do you know how to write a good description? If you’re sure that you do, then can you teach someone else how to as well? The only way you can possibly teach someone how to do either (or, really, anything else related to writing) is if you yourself have a solid grasp of what it is you’re trying to teach.

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing articles about writing and education. Each article I write forces me to go over the content to make sure that I know what I’m talking about. That process, having to go over the content and examine it in detail, is a great way to not only revise but also improve. If I can’t explain a concept, then maybe I need to learn more about it.

Teaching is a great thing. It can be very rewarding because, more often than not, both the student and the teacher end up learning.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

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