The Art of Teaching

We live in a contemporary society where there is such a premium placed on high quality skill sets, especially unique ones. Because everything is about service and personal taste, it is really something when we find someone who “gets it” and is able to give us something we enjoy in a skillful manner.

One of the downsides of our culture is that we are lousy teachers. What I mean by this is what we don’t know how to provide constructive criticism to others, especially if we want them to change a behavior with the intent of either making us happy or making a positive improvement for themselves. Yes, we often know how to diagnose a problem well, but don’t know how to help the person through the process.

Here’s what I mean. You’ve got a family member that you always love and adore. One of the few flaws that person has is that they are a terrible cook. You’re at their house one day: it is lunch time and they offer to make your favorite meal. How do you handle that situation?

  • Some might just take one for the team and it the putrid dish.
  • Some may decline on lack of hunger, even though everyone can hear the stomach growling.
  • Some may just tell the relative flatly they cannot cook.
  • Some may pitch in and help show them how to cook the meal.

In the first choice, you may take that tact because you don’t want to offend, or you love that person and accept the fact that it is the thought that counts more than the taste of the dish. In the second instance, you may be very uncomfortable saying you how feel, so deferring addressing the issue is the priority. In the third choice, you just cannot take it anymore and you call it like it is to feel better, and be damned of the consequences. In the fourth choice, you offer a solution to the situation at hand.

All are appropriate enough and expected choices. But it is reading the other variables in the situation that many of us don’t often do correctly that makes any choice that we make more potentially damaging to the other person than it needs to be.

Sometimes it is your own expectation or intent playing out in how you handle the situation. After all, if you don’t think the person can truly fix the issue you may choose to give up that battle because the other stuff that they bring to the table works for you. We all make trade offs in our relationships, so that sort of approach is understandable. On the flipside, we may expect the other person to have the answers to solve the problem themselves. After all, “it isn’t my problem you cannot/you’re not good at/you don’t know how to (insert issue here). You should be lucky I told you.” SO how are you setting up the person to genuinely address the problem if that is all the “insight” you’re offering?

Sometimes we really don’t know how to help the person but unwillingly to admit it out of fear, embarrassment, pride or shame. After all, what makes things tricky is when you open up a person to criticism and all you have to offer is said criticism and no solutions.

Any good teacher will tell you it is about finding what the goal is for the student, assessing strengths and weaknesses, and doing things to out the student in successful situations that breed confidence and allows them to achieve their goal. It is never enough to tell someone they aren’t up to snuff with something; it is equally helpful to be able to guide them through the process.

So how can we better help someone through that process? Firstly, better understanding what we really want from the person and then to understand how to help that person get there. It doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers, but it just means that we have to be able to some be what we want in order to get what we want. After all, many of the great teachers have shown us the way through example more than through words.




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