| 1083 words

Whenever possible I like to play the role of a teacher, and I am grateful that I've been able to play this role many many times in my life. From as early as high school I was quick to grasp the concepts and even quickier to happily explain them to my fellow students. This continued through university, where I also got the chance to work at a coding program for kids, as well be a TA. I was already familiar with explaining tricky concepts, and doing so in a formalized environment was even more fun.

Now, at my job, I still get plenty of opportunities like this; both through training people at work as well as an after work volunteer program to teach high schoolers to code. I can't say enough good things about this program, both for the kids and for my own enjoyment. It's interesting how being there officially to teach, as kind of an older authority figure, can enhance the whole experience. It's so much more fun teaching people who want to be there and who listen to what you say.

I think there's a lesson can that be drawn from this. For a while I genuinely wondered if I should go into some kind of teaching or education related profession. I certainly seem to be good at it and I definitely enjoy it. I still do wonder sometimes if I should take that idle musing more seriously.

However, I think this does kind of demonstrate that if you will things enough then they can happen. The world is full of all kinds of unconventional opportunities that will be available to those who are open minded and willing to take a chance. There's not only one perscribed way to achieve what you want, and if you want it enough then the things you desire may come to you. A decent part of this might be knowing people and willing to talk about your passions, because that's how word gets around and how your people will find you.

That would be a perfectly fine lesson to take from all this but that's not really my point for today's word vomit. I don't even know if I truly internalize it all myself, or if I'll still idly ponder becoming a teacher when I retire. The main stuff I've come to realize is mostly based on my experiences teaching people things. Because I've seen a lot.

There's this concept I've come up with which I'll call intellectual confidence. It's not just when people are confident of their own abilities, or confident they'll know the material. It's also about not being afraid to try, to take the risk of not knowing something. The confidence to be wrong and yet keep trying.

I've noticed this a lot, both in children and in older people, where they often don't try at all because they're afraid they'll get the wrong answer. Or they'll preface every sentence with "I don't really know what I'm doing" or "I'll probably get this wrong". Giving themselves so much leeway so they don't risk looking foolish and incorrect. And oftentimes, despite their hesitancy they do get the right answer once they give it an honest try. They are smarter than they'd ever let themselves admit.

Attitudes like this must come from poor experiences at school or at home. Probably from being emotionally scarred by adults who wre too strict and insistent on getting the right answer at the expense of all else. It leads to a brutal cycle where a continual reluctance to try only makes it harder and harder to keep up. Of course, when I'm playing the role of the teacher, my main goal is to figure out how to reverse this process.

I think the really difficult and counterintuitive part is that it's not really about being smarter or learning the material better. That will sidestep the issue, but it won't actually develop intellectual confidence. The really tricky, subtle part is that it's not actually about the intellect but it's more about managing emotions. And that's a skill that is incredibly hard to teach.

Becoming an expert in dealing with your feelings and understanding your own psyche is a long and difficult process. Honestly it's not even about education at this point. I think there are techniques like meditation and therapy which probably work, but it'd be different for everyone. I, for one, feel like I got a lot of help in my journey from specific books I read during pivotal moments for me. But of course, that's not a technique that'll work for everyone.

And ultimately you can't make someone do what they don't care about doing. I imagine this is a lot harder problem to solve in a classroom, where you're responsible for the same group of kids for a year at a time. For now, I think it's valuable to realize that it's better to focus on people who reciprocate the effort you're putting in.

It can be incredibly frustrating to realize this. There have been cases where there are clearly capable students who have the potential to do much more, but they flinch away from learning and admitting they don't know things. They don't care enough about the process of learning to make the effort to deal with the negative emotions that it may involve.

You may not be able to make people do things they don't care about, but you can try to make people care. This is something that I think is more successful with kids, who are relatively open minded compared to adults and willing to try things. In fact I think making people care about things is the hard problem of teaching, far harder than teaching specific concepts. It's also one of the most valuable things an education can do for someone; make them care about things they wouldn't have otherwise.

If I did get an educational role someday, maybe the classroom wouldn't be the best place for me. I think being the person who designs curriculums and thinks about problems like these, like how to get people to care, would be really fascinating and fun.