I’ve taught hundreds of classes and attended many more, and the one constant I’ve noticed is that after the course has ended, the true nature of what I’ve learned is only fully revealed in hindsight.
This article is about how I learn from teaching. Specifically, after I’ve completed a class, what do I learn from it that helps me to improve both my teaching and my learners’ experience?
What Do I Learn From Teaching?
Let’s be honest, when we’re teaching, we’re trying to help our learners learn. So when we’re done, what do we really learn?
The short answer is that we learn a lot, and it’s usually far more than we actually taught. This is because in order to teach effectively, we need to first understand how and why our learners’ approaches to learning are the same as, or similar to, ours. That is, we need to discover our own principles of learning.
Why Do My Learners Come Back For More Learning?
One of the primary reasons why students come back for more learning is because they feel that what they’ve learned is of value to them. To quote the great John Dewey, “The object in education should not only be to impart knowledge, but to enable students to think”.
What this means is that we need to consider not only what we’ve learned while teaching, but also how we’ve taught it. In other words, did we successfully convey the knowledge? If not, then why did they come back for more?
How Am I Impacted By What I’ve Learned?
This brings us to the question: how is my teaching impacted by what I’ve learned?
To answer this question, we need to go back to the very beginning, to the very first class that I ever taught. I remember very distinctly the exact moment that I knew what teaching was all about. It was a moment that changed my life forever.
You see, in that class, I learned how to use slides. And although I’d used some in my own teaching, I’d never quite nailed down the art of the perfect slide. That is, I’d never quite found my “groove” for telling the story of math and science through visual aids.
However, in that class, using slides completely transformed my teaching. Before the class, I would simply talk through the examples in mathematics and science. But once I’d learned how to use slides, I could do much more. I could walk students through a problem step by step, and then pull up an illustration to show them the answer. Or I could go through the example once, and then have the class put their thinking caps on, and come back to it later. In short, I could use my new found skill to completely transform my teaching.
What was happening here is that I was infusing my teaching with my own personal experiences. That is, I was able to connect better with my students because I was able to put myself in their shoes and think like them. This is a skill that many teachers say that they cannot afford to do, yet it’s something that all teachers can and should do.
After I’ve taught a class, the next step is to reflect and take stock of what I’ve learned. This is critical because if we don’t do it, then we’re likely to regurgitate the same material in the next class, and our students will be cheated out of a much needed growth experience.
So now that I’ve given you an overview of what I’ve learned from teaching, it’s time to dive into the nitty-gritty of how I go about applying what I’ve learned. Specifically, after I’ve written a class, what do I do with it to make it better?
How Do I Evaluate My Own Teaching?
The first and most critical step in the process is to step back and look at what I’ve done. This is important for several reasons. First, it helps me identify where I went right and where I went wrong. Second, it helps me learn from my mistakes. Third, it helps me identify what I’ve learned that can be applied more broadly.
What Did I Do Well?
So let’s start with the positives. Despite the fact that I’ve only had a few years of teaching under my belt, I can say that for the most part, I’ve done quite well. This isn’t because I’m necessarily a good teacher, but because of how I’ve applied what I’ve learned and developed as a result.
What Did I Learn That Will Help In The Future?
With respect to my teaching, I’ve managed to infuse my lessons with real-life examples and scenarios, which is something that I find most interesting and engaging for my students. I also used illustrations and animations quite a bit, which I found made the concepts much easier for my students to understand. Plus, I was very lucky in that my students generally liked learning about math and science through illustration and animation, so these tools enhanced their experience rather than being a negative.
However, none of this would have been possible without the help of my talented and experienced colleague, Jennifer Hock. Thanks to her, as well as the rest of the Education Elements staff, I was able to develop these skills and bring them to bear in the classroom. So I’d like to think that whatever your skill is, whether it’s teaching, or writing, or science, or art, that with enough practice, you can become equally as good at it as the masters.