May 18, 2017

Stop preaching, start teaching what you know

How do you know you're ready for teaching, and what should you teach?

Do you know what makes a good teacher?

The internet has an abundance of second-hand advice from the unskilled and underprepared. It seems all you have to do is slap on a teacher label and start preaching. I’ve read countless articles where the author purely reiterates what they’ve learnt from someone else, but not what they’ve actually done.

I’ve also seen people jump straight into teaching before actually doing any of the work. Just because you know something, doesn’t make you qualified to teach it. We seem to forget that there’s an in between step between knowing and teaching something — doing.

In order to teach, you actually have to do the work first. Take a Veterinary professor for example,  it’s not enough for them just know about Veterinary science in order to teach it. They also have to have experience in diagnosis and performing surgeries. Who’s advice would you trust more — someone who’s read a few books on Veterinary science, or someone who’s had experience performing surgeries?

Good teachers have experience in what they’re teaching. They don’t just know about a topic, they’ve lived and breathed too. It’s no use teaching a topic you don’t know about. Instead, teach what you know.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who want to get into teaching but don’t feel qualified. Perhaps they feel they have nothing valuable to offer, don’t think anyone will care or simply don’t believe they’re good enough to teach.

So, what makes you qualified to teach what you know?

First you actually have to do the work. Don’t start offering advice on the how to cook a pie if you’ve never cooked one before. Reading a pie recipe doesn’t make you a qualified chef.

If you’re currently in the knowing phase, then you’re probably not ready for teaching. Alternatively if you’re in the doing phase, there’s a chance that teaching might be a good next step for you.

I hear time and time from people who want to teach but don’t believe they have any value to offer. With the vast amount of talent and industry level teachers, it can be discouraging. However, not everyone needs or is ready for high level learning. People are scattered all throughout the spectrum from beginner to expert, and you don’t need to be offering expert advice in order to help someone.

You just need to know more than one person. By knowing more than one person, you can help that person get from where they are now to where you are — through teaching. By doing so, that person will see you as an expert.

Sam Jarman is not the best coder in the world, but he’s far better than me! Because Sam knows and has done things that I don’t have experience in, he has value to offer me. I’m subscribed to his Junior Dev Diaries which I receive each week. The content is relatively low level and aimed for people like me — which is perfect! Because Sam is ahead of me and has more knowledge and experience than me, I find value in what he has to teach and see him as an expert on the subject.

When you’re more experienced than someone else, you have an opportunity and responsibility to share what you’ve done in order to help them. As your mother probably told you, sharing is caring. If you have value to offer, don’t keep it locked away inside for personal gain.

If you want to start teaching, the best place to start is to teach what you’ve experienced. What have you learnt throughout those experiences? What were the challenges you’ve had to face, and how did you overcome them?

People respect honesty, so it’s important to only share what you actually know. I’ve been asked multiple times “How do I transition from part-time to full-time freelancing?” I’ve never worked as a full-time freelancer, so my answer is simply “I don’t know!”.

Teaching things without having had first-hand experience only makes you a second-hand preacher. Instead of teaching something you only know about, focus on teaching the things you’ve done.

Don’t rush into hosting a webinar on marketing an online course if you haven’t actually marketed an online course yourself. Just because you’ve read a zillion books on it doesn’t mean you know how to do it successfully. Do the work first. Then teach.

The Heart School is a good example of two teachers who have actually done the work. Between them they have decades of industry level experience in early childhood. Because of their experience and time spent doing the work, they have immense value, knowledge and wisdom to teach.

When I started teaching through writing I was worried about who (if any!) would read it and when & where I was going to publish. I was worried about the logistics and side effects instead of focusing on what I was going to teach.

Picture an author writing a book. They don’t start with the book cover, they start with writing.

Teaching is no different. Instead of focusing on how you’re going to teach, which platform, how often etc, the best place to start is to just start teaching!

Focus on understanding what you’ve learnt and how you can turn that into value for others. You can worry about how and when you deliver it later.

We’ve all done something that’s worth teaching. While what you know and have done may not be relevant for the advanced players in your field, maybe it can help a beginner out?

Imagine if we were all generous enough to teach what we know with those around us. We’d all become pretty smart human beings.

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