Less sweets and teaching

There’s a great folk story about an exasperated mom who was running out of ways to convince her son to eat fewer sweets. She finally decided she’d ask a village elder/”guru” her son respected for her.

The elder listened to her, sympathized, and asked her to come back in four weeks.

Four weeks later, she went back to him with her son. This time, he took the boy aside and advised him to eat fewer sweets for his own sake. The boy had tremendous respect for the elder and, thus, promised to listen.

The mother found the whole episode curious. So, she asked the elder why he didn’t just give her son this talk four weeks ago. He explained to her that he was guilty of eating too many sweets himself. So, he spent the past four weeks fixing his habits before having the talk with her son.

Many associate teaching to be all about passing on knowledge. In reality, the great gift of attempting to teach is to grow into a place where we earn the right to be worthy of doing so.

Teaching by being

Most teachers associate teaching with the act of teaching. However, if the point of teaching is to maximize learning, very little learning happens that way. Learning happens when teachers simply be someone worth learning from.

Sure, you might walk out of a “class” learning a nugget or two that might help your career. But, great teachers become great because they massively influence how we see the world and, by extension, how we live our lives.

We can all become good teachers by having excellent grasp of our content, by structuring our communication and by delivering it well. But, good teachers become great outside the classroom. They become great when they demonstrate, in thousands of small ways, how much they care. They become great when they demonstrate that being great teachers requires them to be as dedicated toward learning and mastering a craft as we need to be as students. They become great when they live by the idea that learning and growth is a 2 way street.

Great teachers don’t teach. They learn, grow, and inspire. Such people don’t come by often. When you find them, hold on tight.

PS: If it wasn’t evident, great teachers are rarely “teachers” by profession.

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Teachers and salesmanship

A great salesperson is always aware of the fact that buyers have one question in mind – “why should I bother?” His expertise in answering this question is what set Steve Jobs apart. Jobs didn’t just answer the question with “what” made Apple’s products special, he explained the “why” behind them and explained why you should care.

The challenges that teachers face aren’t different from those in sales. As teachers, students sitting in front of them ask the same question – “why should I bother?” There are many competing pursuits that a student would rather divert his/her attention towards. And, this is where schools, organizations and teachers slip. When attempting to hire great teachers, they screen for passion and expertise. Yes, passion and expertise are critical. If a car salesman didn’t look like an expert on cars or simply didn’t care, there is no way we’d want to engage. Why should we bother when he clearly doesn’t?

Passion and expertise only make for a good teacher, however. That’s because people with a lot passion and expertise often make the wrong assumption that everyone cares about their subject as much as they do. And, that is exactly what great teachers do differently – they don’t make that assumption simply because they are always aware that the person in front of them doesn’t actually care as much. In fact, they’re making the decision as to whether or not to care as they speak. So, great teachers sell like professionals. They sell the “why,” they sell the dream of a better life, and they sell hope.

We all play the role of teachers at various points in our lives. We teach as parents, as colleagues, as managers, as trainers, and as mentors and coaches. And, to really have an impact on those at the other end, it is critical we remember that transferring knowledge and expertise is just one half of the job. The other half is demonstrating why it matters, selling the importance of commitment, and answering that important question – “why should I bother?”