I can’t help myself. Even though I couldn’t wait to get out of a teaching career in my mid/late 20s, I still teach a class every semester at a local community college. I don’t plan to ever stop.
In my early 20s I taught high school English and was dumbfounded with how well some of my [older] colleagues knew Shakespeare, in particular. After chatting about it during one of our department meetings I learned they had that level of familiarity and depth of understanding mainly as a result of having taught it for 20 years. In fact, after only five years of teaching much of the standard canon of the American school system, my knowledge of the literary classics increased dramatically. Those few years working in the classroom and writing about literature trained me to decode a text and effectively communicate my thoughts in writing and in a public speaking context. Grad school did that a little. Teaching all day every day for five years did that a lot.
Today I teach classes on Cisco networking and Windows Server, but the result is similar: I have a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of the networking trade because of having to put the concepts into understandable, cogent lessons. Teaching one night a week isn’t terribly difficult, and it’s nice to earn a little extra money, but the benefit to me has been absolutely tremendous.
I don’t think any of what I’ve said thus far is groundbreaking. Teaching a topic causes one to learn it at a very deep level, and I’m sure that’s no great revelation for you.
If you want to become an expert in a topic, teach it.
Rather than expound on that, I’d like to focus on how incredibly rewarding it’s been to work with young people and adults in their endeavor to build a new career in IT. This semester I’m teaching Advanced Windows Server Administration, and every Tuesday night I have the opportunity to get my students excited about our field. Some of my students are right out of high school, but more than a few are adult learners changing careers. When they understand a new concept or become proficient in configuring a particular technology, I know they’re making palpable, relevant progress toward a new career that will help them provide for their own families and ultimately change their lives. Yes, teaching a topic will help you understand it better, but the intangible rewards of helping others in their journey is truly soul-satisfying.
I have the privilege and luxury of teaching others in a traditional classroom setting, but there are opportunities all around us, in the context of our vocation, to enrich our own lives and the lives of others. Coordinate and lead a lunch-and-learn for your co-workers. Come alongside a junior engineer studying for his or her CCNA. Work with some young people at a local vocational school to teach them how to punch down a 110-block. These things will help you for sure and even help you become a better network engineer, but let that be an unintended side-benefit.
Teaching our craft gets people excited, it gives people marketable skills, it changes lives.
A few months ago I wrote about how we work with people just as much as we work with technology. All around us are people who are valuable not just as resources, not just as sources of information, not just as a means for new opportunity, but simply because they’re people. If you’ve had opportunity to succeed in your career and amass a reasonable amount of knowledge and experience, I challenge you to find someone in your life to connect with or a group setting in which you can share your knowledge. There are no rules, no magic lesson plans, and no lucrative contracts, just the reward of helping others.
In short, teach something.
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