There are few things more impactful than a teacher. And not just any teacher, a great teacher.
Great teachers connect with their students on a deep level, they care about them, and they know what they are talking about. Great teachers inspire a lifetime of learning and encourage us to think deeply and actually apply what we’ve learned.
Teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are in your family, and some are not. Some are soft-spoken, and some are not. And while no two teachers may look or act the same, they all have a love of learning and provide us a service by teaching.
In an article by William D. Oswald, he recounts a story about how he and his wife were teaching their five-year-old twin granddaughters how to jump the rope. After receiving some simple instructions, both girls tried but failed on several attempts. Just as they were ready to give up, two older neighbor children walked by, and the grandparents enlisted their help.
Both of the neighbor girls were experienced rope jumpers and were able to show the twins how to jump the rope. As they jumped, the neighbor girls sang a song that helped them jump to the rhythm of the swinging rope.
Once their granddaughters understood the principles of rope jumping and were shown how to jump the rope, the rest of the lesson was easy. With a little practice, both of the twins were having success jumping rope.
While the older girls had their lesson, another granddaughter who was only three years old sat quietly and watched the other girls. When she was asked if she wanted to try, she nodded. She stood up and waited next to the rope. As the girls turned the rope, she was able to jump just as she had seen her sisters do repeating the same song the older children were singing.
All three girls had seen and learned that there was an art to jumping the rope. It was a simple thing that all of them could do after learning a few basic principles and being shown how.
The same holds true in other aspects of our life.
Teaching requires more than just sharing knowledge. Facts and figures often go in one ear and right out the other. Sometimes staying long enough to pass a test, but with little long-term retention.
A much more efficient method of teaching is when we are able to teach the fundamentals and show how they work.
The more senses we can attach to a lesson, the more effectively we learn it.
Imagine standing in the kitchen making rolls. My grandmother always let me help.
I would watch her add all the ingredients one at a time into the mixer, and they would stir together. Then we would put the dough into a greased bowl, and we would wait for it to rise.
Then she would let me stand on a chair and help her roll out the dough and cut it into circles with a glass. I got to feel how sticky the dough was, and how it was easier to work with when I used flour on the dough. I loved the sound of the rolling pin, and the squishing sound the dough made as the glass popped air bubbles. When I ate the raw dough, it didn’t taste very good, so I was happy to fold the circles in half and place them in rows on the baking sheet.
Once the rolls had been in the oven for awhile, the smell of freshly baking bread filled the house. My grandma would turn on the light in the oven so I could watch them rise and turn golden brown.
After they came out of the oven, grandma would give me a stick of butter with the wrapper folded over down the sides, and the butter would melt on the rolls as I rubbed it across their tops. Then came my favorite part, quality control! There is nothing quite like eating a roll fresh from the oven.
Can I learn to cook from a book? Yes. Can I learn to bake from watching a program on TV? Yes. But the more senses I involve in the learning process and the more I can emotionally connect with what I am trying to learn the easier it is to learn, and there is greater retention of what is learned.
Learning is Continuous
Learning is not static. It is dynamic, an action requiring constant work.
For example, I used to play the guitar, and I practiced every day. I loved it and even wrote a few songs. Since my boys have started playing I have had the desire to pull mine out too. Although I could still play a little, I had lost almost all of my proficiency and dexterity from lack of practice over the years. I was saddened by the loss of a talent I had once loved.
In contrast, I have always enjoyed being in the kitchen (probably because of my grandmother’s example) and cooking but was never very good at it. After 15 years of practice, I am an exponentially better cook than I was then. I am by no means perfect, but I am determined to keep practicing.
Let us make an effort not to let ourselves loose our knowledge and talents, but instead strive to continually work at learning every day, until like my cooking, it gets better and better.
A Great Way to Learn is To Teach
Have you ever been asked to teach somebody something?
I have found that when someone wants me to teach something I don’t have a lot of experience with, I quickly jump into learning. Because there is no way I can possibly teach something I don’t understand myself. At least not without confusing everybody in the process…
“We can’t teach what we haven’t learned” – Marlin K. Jensen
If we don’t have the required knowledge to teach before we are asked to do so, then this is the time to obtain it.
Three Principles for Effective Teaching
Once we have the knowledge we need to teach, what’s the best way to actually teach it?
Care About Those You Teach.
This is essential to be an effective teacher. You have to be concerned about the results of your teaching. The measure of success should be the impact you have on the lives of those that you teach, whether they are in your family or not.
If you demonstrate to your students that you are committed to them, they are more likely to be committed to you in return.
We’ve all been in a class where we are inundated with facts and figures and dos and don’ts. If we want those we are teaching to learn anything, we have to make it meaningful to them.
Guy Kawasaki in his book the Art of the Start, has a great suggestion for this principle. Talk to the “Little Man” on your shoulder. After everything you say, pretend the little man on your shoulder says, “so what?” If you can’t answer that question, chances are your students won’t know or won’t care about the answer to that question either.
Have you ever had to do something you really weren’t prepared for? I have. And I can tell you, little kids (and adults) can see right through it. And nine out of ten times, they will totally take advantage of the situation.
We should take the time to learn what we need to know so we can more effectively convey our message to those we are trying to teach. This means thinking about the material beyond just the basic facts. We need to really think about it, know how we can actually use it, and know why it’s important.
When you are prepared, you can engage your audience. Preparation helps you know what is relevant to them. Then as a teacher, you can ask and answer questions, get them to think deeper about the information and try to engage as many senses and emotions as possible.
Learning and Teaching is One of the Greatest Services We Can Give
Who was your favorite teacher? Why did you love them so much? Have you considered that your active learning actually provided a service to them?
When I am teaching, one of the greatest feelings is knowing that I have been a positive influence in the life of one of my students.
I have also been profoundly impacted by the love and knowledge of teacher and mentors who have taken the time to help me learn, grow, and find understanding.
Think about instances when it has been a blessing both to learn and to teach. Not just discipline, but to actually make a connection. It’s life changing. Think of the impact you can have in your family. In your community.
It is a privilege to learn, it is even a greater privilege to teach.
- Jensen, Marlin K. (2008). lds.org. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2008/10/gospel-doctrines-anchors-to-our-souls?lang=eng
- lds.org. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/prov/4.7?lang=eng
- Oswald, William D. (2008). lds.org. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/gospel-teaching-our-most-important-calling?lang=eng