Teach the things you want to learn – or teach the things you know?

“As you can see…”

Leading up to the long weekend ahead, I’m thinking about what I want to think about during this time. Might sound strange to be thinking about thinking – kind of like having a meeting to schedule other meetings – but my time is generally at a premium, so I need to prioritize what I’m going to think (and write) about, so I can make the most of this very precious several days off.

One of the things that’s come to mind is teaching – I’ve read some articles over the past couple of days about teachers and the teaching profession. I come from a family of teachers — elementary school teachers, high school teachers, college professors. So, the subject is near and dear to my heart.

I also have a lot of friends who are different sorts of teachers. They’re yoga teachers, workshop facilitators, drum circle leaders, mentors, coaches… running the gamut of the alternative instructional line of work.

Both “sides” of my extended family (both blood and shared history) are in the teaching profession, yet each goes about their vocation in very different ways. The traditional teachers, with their certifications and degrees and qualifications teach what they know, what they have been trained to know. They approach their work as subject matter experts of sorts, and they operate from a perspective of authority.

The alternative set sometimes do the same — some of them are highly qualified and board certified at what they do. On the other hand, there are those whose qualifications are more “d-i-y”, stemming from years of work with other facilitators and leaders who are in a line of work that doesn’t have boards or oversight commissions. These folks approach their work as fellow seekers, who are anything but experts. They’re there to assist others in a quest for truth or some other transformative quality in their lives. They’re not there to direct and to specify, rather to accompany and support.

And their approach, as they sometimes describe it to me is to “Teach others what you want to learn.”

Now, I’m all for open inquiry, and I’m all for supporting others in their journey to whatever goal they seek. When it comes to teaching, however, I tend to look to folks who actually know their subject matter inside and out, who have extensive experience, and who make a point of becoming expert in at least some facet of their chosen profession. That, to me, is important. It tells me that they truly respect the subjects they’re exploring, and they fully appreciate the responsibility they have in working with others who may be seeking far and wide for some clue about something that’s near and dear to their heart.

When it comes to teachers, I get a little leery of folks who aim to “Teach what they want to learn.” If I want to learn to drive, I want to learn it from someone who can already do so — and handle an automatic or manual transmission in whatever weather or traffic conditions they come across. If I want to someone to teach me to paint, I want them to have at least some skill at the art. And if I want to learn a foreign language, I’d rather spend my time with either a native speaker, or someone who is as close to fluent as a person can be.

Now obviously, not all adept practitioners make great instructors. Some of the best “doers” are some of the worst teachers (take Ludwig Wittgenstein the grade school teacher, for example). But all things being equal, if you’re going to teach me to do something, you’d better know how to do it, yourself.

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About Kay Lorraine

I'm a writer and an artist, a technologist and a thinker, independently living my life.
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