LEARNING IS TEACHING, AND TEACHING IS LEARNING
Teachers among us, and learners among us, I want to tell you a few important things.
You may already have noticed some/all of these things, or you might not yet know what I'm about to tell you. But, either way, you need to know this, so I'll tell you.
Firstly, teaching is learning and learning is teaching.
Never try to make a distinction between learning and teaching: you'll always fail. They are so intimitely related that there is NO coherent distinction to be sensibly made. They are the same damn thing. This matters. It matters a lot. Once you accept this fact, you'll find yourself learning more effectively and teaching more effectively. Learning is teaching. Teaching is learning.
When you're explaining something to the class, you're learning. When you're eliciting something from your students, when you're asking them to tell the class something, when you're asking them to explain something to each other: you're getting them to teach. When you call a student out to the front of the class to read out some poetry that she's composed (or whatever else you might be having her read out), you're asking that student to teach. When you put students in pairs to work together on a task, you're having them teach each other and teach themselves. When you're setting an essay to be written by your students, you're requesting that they teach you something. When a student asks you a question and you make an attempt at answering it succinctly and clearly, you're learning.
For four years, at Molins English Center, I rubbed shoulders daily with three very fine teachers indeed: Gayle, David B. and Brad. I went through a(n ever so slightly pretentious) phase around the time when I was studying toward my post-graduate Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults, in 2003/2004, whereby I was resolutely opposed, as often as I could be, to doing any actual "teaching", and I instead trained my students to run the classes "without" me - well, I was physically present, sitting at the back, tucked away in a corner, ready to lend moral support were it ever needed, which it rarely was. ("Task-Based Teaching" was the (entirely pretentious) label I came up with for it). They did a fine job of teaching each other and learning from each other, and adopting, in relay, the "role" of "teacher". And that should come as a surprise to nobody: because learning is teaching and teaching is learning. I gave one-to-one coaching, before each lesson, to whichever of my students was going to be in charge of events that day, and they ran with the ball and achieved all the learning goals they'd set out to achieve. One time I had students in teams, making up exams for other teams to sit in the following lesson. Then, come exam day, they sat the exams and they all did really well (I did feel it was my professional duty to re-check their marking of each other's exams, but there was precious little, beyond superficial trivialia, that I had to change in the marks that they'd awarded each other). (I got bored, of course, half-way through the actual exam, so I told the class to invigilate itself and I p*ssed off home - THAT was, maybe, pushing the envelope a tiny tad toooooo much. Dunno. I did it. What-the-hell. It worked; the students didn't balk in the slightest, and I knew they wouldn't which is why I felt comfortable just strolling out the door and leaving them to it).
There is NO coherent distinction to be sensibly made between learning and teaching: they are the same damn thing. Accept this fact, because it's fundamental to everything we do. And once you live this reality, you will become a much more focused, much more adept learner/teacher.
John Cotton Dana's phenomenally important words are among several dozen quotes by innovative thinkers and luminary intellectual giants that I carry around in my head every moment of every day. "Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." He got it. He was a librarian, fer chr*ssakes, but he understood that teaching is learning and learning is teaching, and that they're intimately intertwined parts of the same system, so deeply ingrained into each other that there is no coherent distinction to be sensibly made. Don't even try to distinguish between teaching and learning, because you'll fail every time you try. Just accept it, and let that acknowledgement quickly make you the great learner, the great teacher that you know you can be.
It's been my privilege to rub shoulders with many hundreds of teachers over the past 27 years; quite probably a few thousand, actually. Most of them have been highly competent at helping learners to learn the stuff that those learners wanted to learn. I've endeavoured to learn what I could from those colleagues; their input has been invaluable, even when they were wholly unaware they were providing me or anyone else with anything deserving to be labelled "input". Some of the teachers I've worked alongside have been less-than-highly-competent; and I've striven to learn from those folks, too, because EVERYBODY knows useful, worthwhile, helpful stuff way beyond what they are aware of knowing. For just over five years there, I taught at a world-class institution inhabited by some quite extraordinary teachers (although, in fairness, there were a handful of less-than-extraordinary teachers among us there, too): I picked up everything I could from that very rare, even somewhat unique learning environment. One of my duties at The World's Number One Business School (Wall Street Journal rankings, 2007, 2008) -which I did for 7 years in total- was to impart one-to-one coaching to several world-class MBA Professors; I advised them on the content and presentation of their courses. THAT, RIGHT THERE was a learning experience worthy of the name if ever such a thing existed. Three of those MBA Professors became close friends of mine, and we collaborated on educational and business projects of our own, outside the business school itself.
Two of my colleagues at Esade were genuinely "great" teachers. One of those two actually great teachers was an MBA Professor alumnus of mine; that guy, Joan, was and is an unstoppable learner - which, of course is precisely what makes him a great teacher. It is not Joan's "knowledge", vast though it is, that makes him a great teacher, but rather his insatiable hunger for knowledge that makes him a great teacher. He's profoundly, awesomely adept at helping people learn precisely for THIS reason: he himself, as John Dana Cotton aptly put it, never ceases to learn. If you want to learn something, anything, whatever it might be, then hook up with an expert learner: THAT is the person who'll help you learn stuff; THAT is the greatest teacher you'll ever be so fortunate as to come across.
The other genuinely, actually "great" teacher that I was hugely privileged to know, Gerry, was not someone I ever collaborated with on anything at all. He is a phenomenon. He was (I'm guessing Gerry must've retired by now) in the habit of imparting presentations to, and leading workshops for the rest of us in the Executive Language Center. One time, a few hours after he'd pinned a notice on the board announcing a forthcoming presentation he would be giving on "Memory Techniques In Teaching", a colleague of ours hamfistedly asked Gerry for a sneak-preview of a couple of the insights he was planning to share with us. I knew what Gerry's response was going to be, so I shot a wry smile in his direction; Gerry's kind, unshaven face smiled back at me and a nod was as good as a wink. Here is his reply: "I don't know yet. I haven't learnt ANYTHING AT ALL about the subject matter". THAT was Gerry's thing: if he was curious to learn something, he'd post up a message inviting us all to a presentation a few weeks hence that he'd be giving, and then, with that impetus pushing him along, he'd be incentivized to learn everything knowable about the subject in question. Gerry knew something important, something fundamentally crucial about teaching and about learning. He knew this: teaching is learning and learning is teaching.
Maybe you don't aspire to become a great teacher, and of course that's fine. But you do want to keep growing and always be a better teacher today than you were yesterday, I'm keen to assume.
I'm just saying: what those two great teachers I proudly, humbly worked alongside had in common was that they were voracious, incessant, unimpedable learners. Any great teacher that you ever meet will also, I guarantee you this, be a great learner. It could not possibly be any other way, colleagues. Because learning is teaching and teaching is learning.
And if you still need more evidence of the fact that raspberry-ripple icecream is one, cohesive entity and that it'd be absurd and pointless to try to separate the icecream from the raspberry-ripple so that you could then dissect and understand better "each" of the "two" "separate" thing"s", well, I have two things to say to you: firstly, you are a dyed-in-the-wool, stuck-in-the-mud ballbreaker who's likely never to be satisfied about obvious, self-evident stuff no matter how much evidence you get presented with. And the second thing I'll say to you, you moron, is this: consider for a moment the most famous words of that great pioneering educator, that early innovator in what has now become the modern teaching/learning paradigm: Socrates (470-399BC). Come on, you all know it, chant along with me: "I know only that I know nothing".
"I know only that I know nothing." So, why does that matter? Why is that so relevant to all of this? Here's why. Contemplate for a moment the wisest person whom you've ever known to exist. Maybe you have in your mind right now someone like Stephen Hawking, or Marie Curie or Jane Austen or Martin Luther King or Amelia Earheart or Buddha or Jesus or perhaps the current Dalai Lama, or Carl Sagan or Alan Watts or Agatha Christie or Neil deGrasse Tyson or Oscar Wilde. Whoever it is, the name and face are somewhat an irrelevant superficiality; we can dispense with superficialia now that you've kindly participated in my little exercise. Now contemplate wisdom itself. What is wisdom? What is it that identifies a person as being "wise"? What is the essence of "wisdom"? I'll tell you, and when I do tell you, it'll be so unbearably obvious to you that you'll wonder why you even needed to be told it at all. It's like Socrates himself said: "I know only that I know nothing." Wise people all have that one thing in common: they know only that they know nothing. What makes a person wise is the daunting, inescapable reality that she or he knows much less than 1% of all the stuff that's knowable. More than 99% of all knowable things are a total mystery, even to the wisest person who ever lived. And that matters. Once a person accepts that fact, wisdom becomes attainable, because the unsustainable weight of your vast, immense, awesome ignorance will push you, propel you, compel you to learn, and (yes, we're back to John Cotton Dana): you must never cease to learn.
That, colleagues, is the essence of wisdom: learn, and never cease to learn. And how can you possibly learn without teaching, at the very least teaching yourself? Of course you cannot.
The late British statesman and lifelong public servant and ardent, uncompromising socialist Tony Benn said many wise things, but my favourite thing he ever said was one of the wisest things anybody has ever said: "The school-leaving age should be raised to ninety."
I know only that I know nothing. Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. Learning is teaching and teaching is learning.