What Do They Need? A thought on purposeful teaching.

teacher student

I’m continuing to realize a blind spot that I have as a teacher.  I tend to get motivated to teach based on the topics that excite me the most.  The problem is – what I need or want isn’t necessarily what those around me need.  Therefore, if my motivation to teach is primarily about the material that excites me how is that helping the people that are around me?

At best, this teaching motivation is a crap shoot for learners.

It’s great for me though – because I’m psyched!  And surely, if I’m psyched – then they are too.  Right?

Hmmm.  Maybe.

No doubt – there is an appeal, as a learner, to seeing a teacher enthused about a topic.  It can be motivating to see them present it with energy.  So I’m certainly not declaring energized teaching a waste of time.

That said, I offer my teaching colleagues of the world (and more importantly myself) this question.  “What is our primary work when we invite others to learn with us?”  To what extent is this about you?  To what extent is this about them?  How are you planning and engaging in a way that helps them make progress on what they need?  And to what extent are you wrestling deeply with what it means to keep that your primary work?  Are you willing to take what excites us most and sift it through the strainer of what the teaching moment is calling for?  Are we even open to setting aside our most “exciting” ideas if we feel the individual/group just won’t be helped in their learning by them?

In a perfect world what the room needs and what we are excited about connect.  At those times, for me, the challenge is to remember that my work isn’t to filibuster the time by reveling in my great excitement or impressing myself with my great knowledge and ability to keep talking about a given subject.  The challenge remains.  What does this person/group need?

So – to everyone who teaches…not just those with the title of “teacher” – but supervisors, parents, pastors, community leaders, mentors and more – I invite you to join me in this important work.

What do they need?