Up until a couple years ago, I had never been a teacher. At least, I had never formerly been bestowed with the title of “teacher.” Sure, I had tutored my siblings when they had questions on their algebra homework. And I had led some study sessions in college and taken the lead on improv rehearsals here and there. (Yes, improv groups rehearse.) But I had never actually called myself a teacher, nor had I ever referred to the people listening to me as students.
Then, while juggling a job as a freelance writer, marketer and publicist, I decided to get into the teaching game by offering classes on public relations. After that I was hooked.
Whoever said “Those who can’t do, teach” was never a teacher. Nor was that person really good at making quotes because that one is one of the dumbest I’ve ever heard and unfortunately hear all the time. The truth is a good teacher can not only do, but she can deconstruct how she does and communicate that to an audience in order to impart on them the underlying principles of what it is they are setting out to do. Not so easy sounding is it?
The way I described it the other day to my fiance as I was tweaking my lesson plan for my upcoming Blogging for Business course at StoryStudio Chicago is that it’s like having to pretend I don’t know what I know while keeping in mind what I know and then finding a way to get to what I know. To do this convoluted task in a way that is seamless and simple requires a lot of creativity. A good teacher will come up with a number of unique and colorful ways to describe the same principle of a larger concept. This means a combination of anecdotes, metaphors, explanation, illustrations, exercises and discussion topics.
For instance, when I teach my blogging class, I not only have to explain how to write a blog and incorporate SEO, I need to begin with a description of how blogging fits into the larger concept of content marketing. Not only that, but I have to describe succinctly what content marketing is. And to do this, I need to incorporate all those aforementioned tactics, by relaying an anecdote about a content marketing plan I created, by comparing the content marketing paradigm to a manufacturing facility, by generally explaining what content marketing is, by providing a flowchart of the content marketing cycle and by creating prompts, such as “What are some components that you know of that individuals and businesses use to create and distribute content?” And this is just the foundational element of a much deeper discussion.
So teaching is not easy. And if you can’t do, then you probably can’t teach because you never knew what you were doing in the first place.
There’s one other element that makes a good teacher a good teacher, and that is the intangible quality of empathy. You have to really feel what your students are feeling. You have to put yourself in their shoes so you can see their thought processes and how they — as unique, thinking individuals — arrive at an understanding of a concept as opposed to how you would arrive at that same understanding. And you have to really care. I mean really really care. Because it’s a lot of yourself you’re giving up when you’re teaching and teaching well. That’s why I refer to it as “soul transference.” Because if you’ve done it right, by the end of a class, you’re going to feel physically and mentally wiped out, like you’ve unleashed all the psychic energy you’ve pent up inside and now you are completely depleted.
So there you have it in a nutshell: the art of teaching. And if you ever want to see me in action, sign up for my Blogging for Business course at StoryStudio Chicago.