Thursday, November 30, 2017

What I learn from teaching

After I teach a class I am debilitated/incapacitated for about an hour. I can't do anything productive in that time. This is because teaching demands a lot of mental power (at least for me). I am sure, being an introvert doesn't help either; I need some recovery time after too much exposure. When I am lecturing though, I let go (at least after the first 5-10 minutes or so), and I don't think about myself or being introvert. After the initial warm up period, I get excited about what I am teaching, and all I can think of is the message I am trying to convey. This is actually good. When I find myself lost in the moment (or maybe that is getting into the teaching zone), I know I am doing good. I had written about this earlier on presenting: you should center on the message not on yourself. Oh wow, actually I wrote twice on that topic.

So, in that down hour after teaching, what do I do? I have regret-flashbacks about some parts of the lecture I delivered. I have remorse about how I botched some parts of the lecture and how I couldn't answer a student's question better. The reason I botch up a part of the lecture is often because I haven't internalized that part yet. The reason I wasn't able to make a smooth transition from one part to another part is often because I didn't have a better understanding/insight about how those parts fit. It is likely I was missing some context about it. Or maybe more likely that I knew the context, but I didn't internalize it well enough. There are many different levels of knowing, and the more reliable/resilient/dependable level of knowing is knowing by experience. Teaching is a way to have hands-on training in your research area. You learn through your regrets about how you couldn't explain it better. So "teaching is an integral part of a faculty/researcher's job" is a cliche for a reason: it is very true and important.

Richard Feynman wrote about teaching in several memoirs. This one is especially relevant: "If you're teaching a class, you can think about the elementary things that you know very well. These things are kind of fun and delightful. It doesn't do any harm to think them over again. Is there a better way to present them? Are there any new problems associated with them? Are there any new thoughts you can make about them? The elementary things are easy to think about; if you can't think of a new thought, no harm done; what you thought about it before is good enough for the class. If you do think of something new, you're rather pleased that you have a new way of looking at it."

And here Feynman is saying it is better not to be too methodical when teaching. I can listen to Feynman all day.

Here is relevant post of mine on teaching.
Here are some of my other posts labeled teaching.

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