Being a Teacher

Last week, it was my daughter’s 5th birthday. In her pre-school, for every birthday, they give a worksheet to fill up with some questions like what’s your favorite color, favorite food, a family picture, etc. There is also a question about — “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. This year, when we asked this question to our daughter while filling that worksheet, she said — “teacher”.

For a minute we were surprised. We had never discussed being a teacher with her and it was completely her own answer. Maybe she is influenced by her current teachers at the school or her grandmother who was also a teacher.

But this got me thinking about teaching as a profession and teaching as a practice and the value and importance of teachers in the world.

This may sound clichéd but as working parents, our kids go to school or daycare for 50% of the time when they are awake. So they spend substantial time with the teachers and their school friends and learn most of the things at the school than at the home.

And as every parent, we want to teach the best of the things to our kids — not just from an academic perspective, but also from physical, behavioral, moral, social and cultural perspectives as well. And I always wonder if our kids are getting that kind of education and nurturing at the school or not. Sometimes I doubt, but in the end, as a busy parent, I don’t have an option other than trusting the education system, the school, and the teachers and hoping they’re doing their best.

And the reason I sometimes doubt it because of my own experience as a student. Throughout my entire education — starting from the 1st standard to the Masters degree, I would say, roughly 20% of the teachers who taught me were the best in what they did. I still remember every single of them very vividly. They had a profound impact in who I’m today. They were in the teaching profession because of their passion. They enjoyed teaching everyone. They had some purpose.

Then roughly the next 50% were in the teaching profession simply because it was a job to them. While it wasn’t their passion, they did their job sincerely and they were decent good at it. And in the last, the remaining 30% were there simply because they didn’t get any other job but somehow ended up getting the teaching job. It always seemed they neither had an interest in teaching nor they were good at it.

While our expectation is to have some of the best and brightest people in the teaching profession, the reality is — most of the best and brightest minds are choosing engineering, medicine, legal, management, etc. career paths due to either because of high-salaried jobs or because of their liking.

According to this article, elementary and pre-school teachers across 34 developed countries make about 22% less, on average than their full-time counterparts with similar education levels who have chosen to do pretty much anything else with their lives.

So naturally, a very small % of individuals, who are truly passionate about teaching, who want to make an impact in the world, and who care less about high-salaried jobs, decide to choose teaching as their profession. The rest (like me), decide to take other paths.

Thus, it’s clear that we can’t have all teachers in the school as the best and the brightest minds and we also can’t expect our kids to get the best education in the schools only.

So the questions remain —

  • Can we teach our kids (or even adults) outside of the school system by the best and brightest minds who are not teachers by profession but are by practice?
  • Can these doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc. allocate their time to teach others about anything that they’re good at — any specific skills, particular knowledge, cultural values, their moral and spiritual beliefs, etc.?

Now this kind of teaching need not be in a formal setting. The students don’t need to earn any certification. Sometimes this teaching could be even unsolicited as well.

Let me explain.

The other day, a friend of mine had some questions about her career change. I listened to her situation and gave her specific advice on what she should do next, how she should prepare for it, how she should approach it, etc. Overall it seemed she really liked my advice and at the end of the call, she asked me, why don’t I do this as a consulting.

A few months ago, a colleague of mine also gave me a similar feedback that I should open a consulting firm to give people advice on product management and guide them on taking their complex or hazy product ideas and crystalizing them down into short-term product iterations that deliver enough value while keeping the long-term vision and strategy intact.

Similarly, every single time I explain some new concept to my mom or even discuss some old concepts and try to explain some rationales about those concepts, she always tells me that I should have been a teacher.

In above all situations, I didn’t behave as a professional teacher, but I practiced teaching something I had learned, something I knew, something I was good at, and something I was passionate about.

I didn’t have a class of students. It started with just one other person, who needed that knowledge, skill, and guidance.

And this is probably true with you too.

You’re also a teacher — if not by profession but by practice. You are also already teaching many other people around you. You probably just didn’t internalize it that way.

But there is a value in internalizing it that way. Right now, you might not realize if you are really teaching someone or not. Or you might not know how much time are you investing in doing that. And just by observing if you are doing it or not, you will be able to make a measurable impact in someone else’s and your life too.

All you need to do is to make sure you are spending some % of your time to pass on your knowledge or skill to at least one other person. It could be your spouse, your kid, your friend, a family member, etc. And it could be any knowledge or skill — educational, physical, mental, moral, creativity, etc.

Once you start enjoying teaching one person, then you can start teaching more than one person. Maybe you write blog posts, maybe you create video tutorials, etc. which can reach to many people.

Now you might ask — but what’s in it for me?

Yes, there is a benefit in this for you too. We all know that the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else. So by teaching someone else, we are actually helping ourselves to learn and understand our knowledge better.

But you might still say — I don’t have anything to teach, I am still learning a lot of things myself.

That’s true with everyone. Everyone is a life-long learner. There are so many things we don’t know yet, that we want to learn. But there are many things that each one of us has learned so far, that we can teach to others. We just hadn’t thought and internalized that the knowledge we know can be valuable and is needed for someone else.

But if someone forced you to teach something to others, I’m sure you will be able to identify few skills that you are good at, which you also enjoy teaching it to others.

One way to think about it is — imagine to have some sort of “learning tax” similar to an income tax.

The way every individual is required to pay an income tax on the income they earn, imagine they also need to pay a learning tax on the knowledge they learn. And the way you pay this learning tax is not by any currency, but allocating a percentage of your time to teach others.

Just imagine the difference there would be in the world if everyone starts spending some time teaching others. This does not necessarily have to cost a lot. All it requires is a drive and commitment to help others.

And I hope being a teacher is something we all practice every day.

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