The real quote by Robert Heinlein is “When one teaches, two learn” which is something all teachers should agree with if they are doing their job correctly. However, I have gotten to the point that I also teach in order to learn, hence my little alteration (title above) of Heinlein’s memorable quote. My conviction that today I am going to help my students learn something, but I will learn as much if not more than they will, has changed my attitude toward my students and toward teaching in general.
Teaching and learning thus become an exchange, not a one-way street from teacher to student. The act of exchanging something means that both of us give and get. You learn something but so do I.
There is not one teaching day that I don’t have to stretch my creativity trying to find new ways to transmit something to my students. Sometimes I even surprise myself – something comes seemingly out of nowhere, something I didn’t know I knew (and perhaps I really didn’t) and then becomes a permanent part of my teaching repertoire. It boggles my mind to think how much more I know now than when I first started teaching and that most of this knowledge has come from actually teaching rather than from further private study or courses.
I am talking here about studio teaching. But you can say that any act of transmission is teaching, including writing, painting and the performing arts. Any of these activities is a voyage of discovery, self-discovery, a learning experience. We should see teaching in the same light.
In most of the texts on teaching that I have read, the authors thank their students in the forward or dedication. You might think that this is a show of false humility, but I am sure that it is entirely heartfelt. I know that any personal or professional progress I have made in life, I owe to my children (my first students) and to my students. Yes, we teachers do our jobs and get paid for it, which in itself is a good motivation (we have to eat). But if we do it with the idea that we are going to get much more out of it than a paycheck, we will do it better, even joyfully.
I remember one of my undergraduate Greek professors in whom I confided my doubts about my ability to teach ancient Greek grammar in graduate school as a teaching assistant. He said “Don’t worry about that, Eloise. You’ll be fine. Remember, you don’t really learn anything until you teach it.” He was right.