Teaching as an Act of Learning


“Those who can’t do, teach,” is a common saying that summarizes an all-too-common belittling of teachers in our society. By many, teachers are seen as second-class citizens who ended up in their profession because of a lack of ability in their field.

That is a dangerous, toxic mindset that disincentivizes the spreading of information from those more knowledgeable to those less so. While this obviously effects those who need to learn, it also affects those with the ability to teach. Studies have shown that teaching makes the teacher (not just the student) more firmly knowledgeable in that subject. It’s called The Protégé Effect.

According to a 2011 Time article by Author Annie Murphy Paul, “the benefits of [older children teaching younger children] were indicated by a pair of articles published in 2007 in the journals Science and Intelligence. The studies concluded that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and suggested that their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings the ropes.”

You see, teaching not only teaches the taught, teaching also teaches the teacher. Teaching is an act of learning, and people should always strive to learn. Everyone should be teaching, even if it’s not what they’re paid to do. Even the most selfish people should have teaching on their to-do list. If your goal is to be the absolute best in your field, it behooves you to share your knowledge with others. It forces you to dig deeper into the material at hand, understanding beyond the surface memorization level.

Learning-by-Teaching is an exciting learning method employed by some schools and universities. Some call it “cascading mentorship.” It utilizes the idea of The Protégé Effect and, in practice, should be implemented in and out of traditional educational environments. “A new model for ongoing education is needed, one that’s being fulfilled on some level by a crop of startups that specialize in online learning models,” attested One Month Founder and CEO Matten Griffel in his 2016 Forbes article.

Many companies are beginning to see the immense value in a rolling, continuous learning process built on the idea that employees can teach one another. Griffel lists One Month, Code Academy, and General Assembly as prime examples.

With the rapid automation of low-wage jobs, the demand is higher than ever for specialized jobs in tech and other nascent and growing industries. These jobs require very specific knowledge, not only on how to complete specific tasks but also on how even to navigate emerging industries. The concept of apprenticeships is making a come-back. Learning a trade through apprenticeships was very common but fell out of vogue with the push for college degrees. If college education is to be continually pushed and used as a benchmark for a person’s ability to seek jobs, the system should be challenging students to show each other how things are done. Perhaps this education format, where professionals offer on-the-job training, will make its biggest comeback in the tech industry.

Teaching elevates everyone. You should seek every opportunity to show others how to do what you are particularly good at. This will reaffirm your knowledge base and likely raise new questions for you to answer. This post speaks to the idea of sharing knowledge as a legacy—to transfer wisdom and understanding simply so the next generation can have it. Grandma’s pies are delicious until you realize she never taught you the recipe before she died.

Yoshi Yui