Evaluating your teaching talent

What is being a teacher about? How can you evaluate whether you “have what it takes”? What do you know that is of actual value to pass on?

We’re not discussing teacher as a profession, but your ability to transfer knowledge and skills you have accumulated to other people in such a way that they retain these skills and from then on can use them (and improve them) independently.

What does it mean to transfer knowledge?

From the first words we learnt from our parents to the schooling we receive as young adults to skill coaching on the work floor, transferal of skills and knowledge are a big deal in our lives. We are unique in the world in that we have many methods of teaching others of our kind how to behave, how to communicate and how to do the things we do to survive and thrive.

The most basic form of learning is copying the skills of others through observance, a skill each of us has used to learn our first words, take our first steps and discover how to open doors. There is quite some trial and error involved, as we don’t receive the theory that lies behind a skill – we simply learn to follow through predetermined steps to achieve a result.

Teaching comes into play when we are taught the fundamental knowledge that lies behind a skill, and explain us not just how things work, but why. We learn that day and night are caused by the revolution of the earth around the sun, that things fall because of gravity and that cooking an egg changes it from liquid into solid in a way that cannot be undone.

By doing this, we can combine skill and theory to discover new ways of using this skill, a process called innovation. We could discover more efficient ways of performing a task, create better tools, or eliminate steps in the process that are not actually required.

If we then teach these innovations to others, we enhance the skills of others and the speed at which they acquire these skills. This is the importance of transferring knowledge through teaching.

But this ability is not present in everyone.

What does it take to be a teacher?

First of, being a teacher means that you will need to have a higher degree of skill in the subject you are teaching than those who are expected to learn from you. A teacher needs to be an expert in the field, someone who not only has the ability but also the theory and can reproduce this on demand.

Secondly, to transfer this knowledge to others requires the ability to reformulate this knowledge in a way that it can be understood by someone who does not master it. You would need to build on existing knowledge and know how to explain to others what to do, but also explain the theory behind it. You also need to be able to gauge in others when they do not understand what you are teaching them, and be prepared to change your tactics to try different ways of fostering understanding. This requires great flexibility and mental fortitude.

Finally, you also need to have a strong motivation to teach others. Making others understand your chosen subject and master it – hopefully to surpass you one day – should fill you with joy. After all, the rewards for teaching are mostly internal, based on others becoming better people as a result of your efforts. You should thrive on internal (self)motivation, because there is no guarantee you will receive praise or recognition for your ability to teach others.

What is of value to pass on?

You might be surprised on the amount of knowledge you have which would be of value to others. In an average career you can expect to learn:

  • Corporate values, etiquette and general processes
  • How to handle colleagues and superiors
  • How to perform the tasks required of your job
  • How to recognize when you need to escalate an incident
  • Conditions for promotion, demotion and dismissal
  • How to handle a promotion, demotion and dismissal
  • Handling performance reviews and their outcomes (improvements and rewards)
  • Industry-specific knowledge and contacts

Make a list for yourself of the things you know, no matter how small, and see if you see a pattern emerging for yourself. Perhaps you could be a very good career coach in your industry, or you have a knack for resolving incidents and escalations. Perhaps you know more about HR topics than Human Resources. Those are all valuable topics to teach others.

How do I evaluate if I have what it takes?

First you have to answer for yourself the question “why do I want to teach others?”. Without the internal motivation and the feelings of fulfillment of seeing others improve because of your actions you will not have the drive to pursue a teaching career for very long before you’d burn out.

If you are employed you might be able to get an assessment done through Human Resources, where an analysis is done on your talents. You’d need to have an extrovert personality, emotional resilience and the flexibility to change approaches when needed. Aptitude for consulting and precision are great assets as well. Analytical abilities will allow you to gauge progress with your students, and you would need social skills to engage with your students but also gain insight if they understood the course material or are hiding their lack of understanding for fear of reprisal.

Many companies have a form of internal “train the trainer” type of arrangement where you would combine learning a particular skill with the needed knowledge to also teach that course to others. This way you would be able to learn the ropes while also honestly seeing for yourself if you have what it takes to teach others. Not everyone can do it, not everyone can keep up doing it, but those who stick with it often build rewarding relationships and memories that last a lifetime.

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