Teachers and Students

I was reminded again the other day that we only teach what we need to learn. For instance, I teach writing, or at least that’s what my class descriptions say, but I’m most interested in how people create the things they want and don’t want, and writing is one very good example of this, and so that’s what I really teach. The student might seem to be getting a raw deal in this arrangement. Why, the student might ask, should I pay to take a class from this guy who’s still figuring it all out himself? I want an expert. It is a reality every teacher must address. Every teacher knows his or her limitations. No matter how long they’ve traveled the road they’re teaching, every teacher can feel like an eternal beginner as we train our eyes on what we wish to learn next. After all, if you learned everything, if you understand everything, the journey’s over, and you like this journey, which is why you’re on it.

Once you begin to teach, two things become clear. First, you do know something. You have been on this road asking, “How do I do this?’ and, “Why is this so?’ and, “What if happens if I . . .?” and all the while you were asking, you were getting answers which led you to your next question. A natural student, your eyes were always trained on the next question, and so you naturally disregarded what you had learned. The most interesting stuff is always what’s coming next.

And then you find yourself at the head of a classroom summoning the answers to all those questions you’ve asked, and to your surprise not everyone has asked the questions you have asked, so your answers are useful to them. But this is not really why you teach. You teach because the students have questions you have not thought to ask. They ask you, and then you ask yourself, and then the answer comes, and then you share the answer, and then everyone learns.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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