Monday, January 3, 2011

What's Scary About Teaching, Part 2

Here’s Part 1! And now I’m going to talk about more fears that don’t need to stop you from teaching or writing or sharing your knowledge.

They’ll ask me a question I don’t know the answer to.

And then I’ll just be paralyzed, standing there like an idiot, and they’ll know that I’m not really an expert. Oh yeah, not an expert. We talked about that in Part 1.

No matter how much you know, you won’t know everything. And that’s okay.

Keep firmly in mind that your audience is there to learn what you know. Your own specific expertise, the knowledge you dug out of your subconscious and organized and made into a beautiful thing that you can teach.

But the other thing you have to offer? The fact that you learned something. If you have deep knowledge of a skill, a process, a job, an experience, you have mastered the art of learning. And when someone asks that question you don’t know the answer to? You have an opportunity to model learning for them.

You also get to model that it's okay not to know everything.

That gives them permission to not know everything. Mini-empowerment lesson.

So what do you say when someone asks a question you can't answer?

"I don’t know the answer to that. How interesting! I’ll find out and get back to you."
"Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Thank you for the insight."
"I’m not sure. Let’s go over this process together and see if we can figure it out."

I was teaching people how to make a value gradation in colored pencil, changing smoothly from dark to light by lightening the pencil’s pressure. One student was having great trouble doing it, and I didn’t know what else to tell her. So I went to her table and demonstrated a gradation. We both watched me carefully as I did it, and she was the one who noticed that in addition to lightening the pencil’s pressure on the paper, I was also holding the pencil more loosely as the value got lighter.

I didn’t know I was doing that!

And I was able to say, “Wow, thank you. Now I’ll know better how to tell other people to do this.” She felt great because she helped me.

And that’s the other important thing: you can learn from your students. In fact, if you want to get better at something, the two things I would tell you to do are to go through the observation/organization process of Digging for Treasure, and then to actually teach your subject.

The more questions you can’t answer you get, the better a teacher and do-er you’ll be.

So much responsibility!

What if I miss something?
What if I teach something wrong?
What if one of my students gets hurt on the equipment?
What if I bring up heavy stuff and they can't handle it?

Oh yes, scary. If you teach or write, you’re putting your ideas out in the air, and in small or large ways, you’re changing people. Or preparing them to do a really important task. Or teaching them to do something that could be dangerous.


There are helpful two ways to think about this.

One is to accept the responsibility (whew) and prepare yourself down to the ground and up to the trees. Think deeply about your subject. Observe, plan, organize, prepare. That’s what the Digging for Treasure program is for. Figure out what to say. Change your mind a million times. Get advice and feedback. Get it just right. Practice practice practice, edit edit edit.

But also you have to know that your responsibility does not extend over the whole universe. You are accountable to your students to do the best job of teaching or writing that you can. But they are responsible for what they do with the knowledge you give them.

Do your best, and then let it go.

 I'll come back to some more fears later, but next I'd like to move on to the first step in Digging for Treasure!

Here's a link to What's Scary About Teaching, Part 3

I'd love to hear from you in Comment Land!


  1. Great advice, Do Mi!! Great advice.

    I taught adults for years as part of my corporate job. Everything you've noted so far is absolutely dead-on based on my personal experience.

    It's apparent to me based on what you've written that you are a great teacher. So, the fact that you are teaching others how to teach is just wonderful.

    Looking forward to digging up lots of treasure with you!

  2. More richness of thought. Love, love, love reading your blog. You articulate inner process so well.

  3. @Kellie: Nice to hear that my experience matches yours! Looking forward to your treasure too!

    @Janet: Awwww....thank you!




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