The Biggest Lesson That Teaching Has Taught Me

An old school pic of a teacher in sweater and tie standing in front of a blackboard

It’s finally over. I’ve just finished mentoring for a year-long programme on mobile journalism, and boy has it been a trip.

For one, impostor syndrome was hitting hard, as my bulk of experience in lifestyle, marketing, and fiction felt out of place among the other mentors, who were powerhouses in journalism and news reporting.

But the good outweighed the bad, and I’ve now come out of this programme having learned more about myself as an educator, and you know what? I actually think I suck. A lot.

Don’t believe me? Let me convince you.

My jokes are fake

“Since we’re talking about SEO, do you guys know where to hide a dead body? On the fifth page of Google search results, because nobody goes there! Ha ha!”

I memorise jokes like that right before class, then I act as though I came up with that in the spur of the moment.

“Why did the SEO cross the road? Because he wanted traffic! Ha ha!”

Yeah, they say that humour is the best way to jazz up a presentation. Sit through mine and I’ll prove otherwise.

I depend too much on notes

If I’m using Google Slides, I’ll probably have a separate screen filled with presenter notes longer than War And Peace. Part of the reason why is because of my aforementioned jokes.

I never used to be this way during the analogue days. Back then, all I needed were a couple of words to recall swathes of information.

I’d write these words on our ‘Powerpoint’ slides, which consisted of mahjong paper and illustrations shoddily drawn with permanent markers, visible only to me.

So if you’ve ever attended any of my classes, I’m going to have to apologise for duping you into thinking I’m smarter than I actually am.

My ‘fun activities’ are actually just me buying time

In a perfect world, I’d have my classes all planned to the tee. But surprises do tend to crop up, mostly in the form of companies wanting a certain subject to take longer to complete, for whatever reason. Maybe they think more equals better.

So I’ve often found myself stretching my two-day syllabus across two weeks.

Those Kahoot! games? Yeah, I just needed to fill up a spare half-hour. That sharing session? Another hour. I think my fellow educators will understand the bind of finding yourself with too much time to spare in class, especially with last-minute notice.

You think you’re getting frequent breaks because I have your comfort in mind? Nah, that’s just me buying even more time.

Maybe other teachers don’t have a problem with this. I’ve always been an underwriter when it comes to my fiction, so perhaps that reflects in the way I teach as well. Why say more when you can say less?

Sadly, it seems like the world isn’t geared for people like me.

I’m too generous with my praise

You know what’s the weird about praise? It’s that the more you hand it out, the more people take it for granted.

Maybe it’s just me overcompensating for my lack of skill, but I find myself always opting for positive reinforcement whenever I can. I mean, I want my students to have fun, right?

But if approval was a currency, mine would be worth less than the Zimbabwean dollar, especially when compared to the stricter teachers alongside me.

One mentor—we’ll call him James—was notorious for being a hard-ass during my days at the hairdressing academy. And just one nod from him used to mean tons to the students.

“Did you know that James said my blowdry was great?”

“Wow, I really must be improving, because even James said it looked decent.”

“James didn’t scold me, so I guess that’s good.”

And there I was, telling people that they’d put forth a good effort, only to be told that it didn’t matter because James said it wasn’t enough.

I see teaching as a skill… and rely too much on it

“Teaching’s a skill of its own, man.”

That’s an excuse I always have on standby, for when my employer—or students—find out that I’m a hack.

Truth is, I can’t know everything there is to know about a certain subject, and I’m bound to come across a question I can’t answer. When that moment arrives, I already have this answer rehearsed and ready to go:

“I’m a teacher first, because you can be technically sound but still suck at teaching.”

Thankfully, I’ve not needed to use that excuse yet.

I see your boredom, but can’t do anything about it

Students (myself included) typically think they can let their minds wander without the instructor knowing. Ha. Instructors see everything, from that doodle in your notebook to the micro-naps you’re taking in the back of the class.

And don’t think it’s less obvious on Zoom either, because I see how the glow on your face changes from white to blue, and that reflection on your glasses looks pretty similar to Facebook’s feed.

There are times when boredom is inevitable, however, because try as I might, I can’t seem to liven up the Rules And Regulations For Shopee And Lazada module.

But yeah, I see you, and I just thought you should know.

I ask too many questions

Criminally easy questions, too. Because, as it is in blogging, engagement is key.

I wouldn’t say that this makes me a sucky teacher though, but I do suck at holding the silence long enough to wait for an answer. Three seconds of silence is enough to get me asking the follow-up, “Anyone?”

The best practice is to bask in the silence until someone speaks up, because believe it or not, the students also feel the burden of quiet.

But I’ve learned that I don’t handle Mexican standoffs that well. And speaking of lessons, here’s my biggest takeaway that I want to leave you with.

It’s much better to be sought after than to pursue

While I admire and enjoy the art of teaching, I’ve realised that it’s much better to do something so well that people naturally gravitate to you for answers.

Which is why I’ve been grateful for the e-mails I’ve been receiving on how to find a career in writing, or how to grow a blog—subjects that I finally feel comfortable speaking on, without having to search for dad jokes beforehand.

And that’s taught me to first answer my own questions before I even try answering other people’s. Perhaps what’s most important is that through teaching, I’ve learned how to learn.


You don’t need to be a teacher to be a part of my community though. There, I share more lame jokes, observations, and interesting learnings such as this one. Also, you’ll get a free guide on how to grow your blog!

66 thoughts on “The Biggest Lesson That Teaching Has Taught Me

    • To be fair, I agree that speaking in front of teenagers can be scary. And the bulk of my training was done for adults, which I have to say is much more accessible than teaching children or teens.

      You’re right though, it was a definitely rewarding time.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Becky!

  1. Seriously, stop it eh, with treating the googled jokes as your original jokes. 😂 Humour is a whole different skill by itself too. There is no shame in saying, “Have you come across this joke on the Internet?” When the response is bad, then just quip it as “I’m sorry, my coffee machine broke, hence the terrible joke. More coming your way today!”

    • Ha ha. No! Dad jokes plagiarising forever!

      Interestingly enough, I did participate in a pun stand-up event once, and had a whole theme of original puns lined up for an audience. Best three minutes of my life. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. This is amazing! You’re learning! I love your determination and definitely fell for the SEO jokes, lol. Teaching teaches students, but it also teaches the teacher. And I loved every point in this post. Simple and digestible and concrete. Thank you so much Stuart! And co gratulations on the follower count, the sky really is the limit now!!

    • Aww, that’s a kind thing to say, for sure. Some things are beyond my ready expertise, and writing this post was a little tough, I have to admit. But your support makes it all worthwhile. Thanks for always stopping by!

  3. I was told I would make a great teacher, but I never went for it. I was good with presentations and small groups or one on one, but the rejection of teaching as a path was more of my disdain for the education system and the idea of having to babysit kids whose parents are too lazy to raise them right. But funny story. At one point when I was doing a presentation for Poli-Sci, I straight up told my professor I didn’t follow his approved method and he wasn’t happy about it, but the class got a laugh out of it and I still did well enough with the information to get high markings. It helps to have jokes mixed in the presentation and taking a course in theater helps convey some things, gauge reactions and improvise.

    That said, I do prefer to be sought after, as well. Not for ego reasons, but because I wouldn’t want to be seen as nagging, and I think it would be a more honest gauge of skill if someone seeks you out rather than the other way around.

    • Oh yeah, being sought after does at least reassure you that you’ve already put in the work, and am being engaged for a reason. Oftentimes in the teaching posts that I sought out (or stumbled into) have often given me impostor syndrome exactly because I had no idea what I was doing there. I always felt undeserving, and that can definitely affect the way we conduct ourselves too.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, JB!

  4. 😂😂 * whispers * I will borrow these jokes from you, and pretend like I came up with them as well 😉

    I feel ya…I sometimes do think praises are something taken for granted or most of them are just outta formality 🤠

    • Ha. That’s what I did with those jokes anyway. I wonder who the original creator of those jokes are at this point. Pretty interesting to know that an offhand joke you make today may be used by the next generation in the future.

      Yeah, praise can be taken for granted, but that’s not going to stop me from praising your effort and time in sharing your comment. Thank you!

  5. My parents have good ratings on Rate My Professor. They’re good at it. Perhaps this group isn’t your thing. One relative of mine switches back from teaching biology to regular students and has a job where he works with super seniors and those who keep failing. I think some of the rating is due to the fact he doesn’t always disengage one for the other.

  6. Have you had a class in public speaking? I didn’t like doing it either, but I grew more confident as the semester went on, and I’ve also watched many lectures from my parents. Prior to my injury and illness, I think I was a decent presenter. You have to know that people like my parents have been teaching for like 20 or more years. They have the textbook memorized by then.

    I will say that I HATE too much praise from teachers because then I don’t learn anything. It seems like when you’re doing well, teachers start ignoring you and let you hand in your laundry list. I know that some people need more attention, but if you chronically have trouble with a class, then you should go to tutoring or ask after hours. I’ve myself been forced out of class for not being ready. Wah. I paid 500-1000 dollars to be here, give me somethin’, right?

    • Nope, I was just thrust into public speaking and had to learn on the job, so to speak. But speaking in front of crowds daily for years has definitely helped with my presentation skills, for sure.

      Yeah, I think there’s always a balance needed as a teacher. I’ve realised that I can’t keep telling people they’re doing a good job just for the sake of encouragement.

      Who knows when I’ll be back teaching though? Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

  7. That last line actually is why I think you’re selling yourself short Stu…”that through teaching, I’ve learned how to learn.” Take it from someone who’s been teaching since 2003, this is what sets a true teacher with a heart to nurture and inspire, from one who’s just counting the days to his next pay cheque! You got this bro so never say never (teach again) alright? (PS And pleaseeee, you don’t suck. At all.)

    • Eh? I didn’t know you were a teacher. And that’s something new I’ve learned about you today. That’s pretty cool too, that someone with as much experience as you says this. Thanks for stopping by as always, Kelvin!

  8. The best thing about teaching is that there are a bunch of different ways to get the job done. One of the best pieces of advice my master teacher gave me when I was starting my student teaching was, “Don’t try and copy me. You’ve got to develop your own style.” Having fun with what you’re doing has to be part of the equation.

    “Students feel the burden of quiet” is an excellent observation. Everybody recognizes awkwardness.

    • Ha ha. I guess I need to build up my tolerance to awkwardness until the students crack first. But I’ve learned that there’s always that one person I can depend on. Each class has that star student, for some reason.

      Such a cool observation about having to develop your own style. I guess teaching is not much different from any other craft, in that there’s always a unique way to be the most effective.

      Thanks so much for sharing, Pete, especially with your experience!

  9. Oh yes. Being a teacher is most definitely about learning how to learn. I find it a little hilarious when you share your behind the scenes of planning your classes. As a public school middle school English teacher, I usually overplan and don’t have enough time to finish everything within a class period. However, I’ve gotten better over the years. But I totally relate to just trying to fill in the gaps with discussion, sharing out and fun activities. But the truth is, sharing out and playing fun games is crucial for learning! Especially when people get bored 🤣 this post speaks so much to me! It’s as if you wrote it for all the teachers out there haha

    • Lol I’ve experienced so many surprises in extending lessons, that not having enough time feels like a privilege!

      It feels awesome to have every minute accounted for, and being able to go from section to section with purpose.

      The worst feeling is reaching the end of my slides and realising that I still have one hour to kill.

      Of course, I’ve since paced myself (don’t go over slide 50 before lunch), but it’s hard to keep changing the syllabus according to the company we’re teaching, lol.

      Love comments like yours, especially since you’re an experienced teacher, and I appreciate you chiming in!

  10. I admire you for taking this on. A good teacher is invaluable and I know you’ll be a good one. Don’t focus on your shortcomings! They’re just opportunities to improve. I myself am not a good teacher, I’ve had various volunteer jobs and I just can’t do it. I have no patience for it and I’m easily embarrassed.

    • Haha, I have the patience and embarrassment issues too though. Maybe it’s my avoidance of confrontation that gets me to just roll along with it.

      But yeah, who knows what’s next? I’d definitely take on a teaching job if it was a subject I can do justice in.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Hetty!

  11. Ohhhh so all those times I thought I successfully contained my yawn with flared nostrils and sleepiness with heavy hooded quick-blinking eye-lids my teacher actually SAW THROUGH THAT??? and knew I was BORED out of my mind?? *hides in embarrassment* Eeek!

    • YES. Especially if it’s a fairly intimate setting (e.g. thirty people or less). You have no idea how many students think they’re not being watched when it’s super obvious what they’re doing, lol.

      I guess it’s our evolution as humans? I can tell when a student is checking his phone under his desk, or even on Zoom!

      It doesn’t apply to crowds though. Then you’re just addressing the mass of people as a whole.

      Great seeing you here, Jen!

  12. You’re too humble.! There is a reason why people sign up to learn from you, you must be really good! :)

  13. Don’t they say teaching is the best way to learn? I suppose that’s true even if what you learn is that you suck at it. :P But it sounds like you’ve got some teachable moments in here for other teachers–like how to kill time, unless that’s an inherent trait all teachers have. Still, you were asked to do this, and you were probably actually pretty good, better than you realize. Still, I feel the sigh of relief with you that it’s over. :)

    • They also say that those who can’t do, teach. But I’m all for breaking that stereotype, so teachers need to hold themselves to higher standards and actually practise what they preach.

      I feel I’d enjoy teaching once I get to a level where people would actually want to learn what I do as a person (I guess my best subject would be writing?).

      But I’m sure there’ll be teachers who kill time with better efficiency than me, lol. Maybe they disguise it as tests or pop quizzes.

      Always great to see you here, Betsy!

      • I think the ideal place would be to know your subject forwards, backwards, left and right. You did mention that in this post… But even then, a question could throw you. Hopefully you (in the general sense) would be well respected enough that you could get away with, “That’s an interesting question. Let me think about that and get back to you.”

        When I was teaching my self defense class, I was painfully aware (as were my students), that I wasn’t an expert at what I was teaching, particularly the JJ stuff. But I was honest about that and knew they were better off with something rather than nothing. (Hopefully by next school year I’ll be awesome.)

        But my point! As it leads back to you! Is that you no doubt taught them a great deal, and will get better with practice, as with all things, should you be sought after in the future.

  14. Alright I’m gonna keep reading but this is too funny
    “impostor syndrome was hitting hard, as my bulk of experience in lifestyle, marketing, and fiction felt out of place among the other mentors, 😂 And this “and I actually think i suck a lot 😂😂.
    Sorry forgive me aftsharingong your vulnerability.
    laughing still 😂
    if approval was a currency, mine would be worth less than the Zimbabwean dollar, especially when compared to the stricter teachers alongside me.

    sorry you weren’t compelling but I can assure you your class had fun and I’d wanna be a student in your class but if you’re not happy Stu .. then it’s time to move on and you crush it here and everywhere so it’s all good to figure out what don’t like so you can move to what you do like to do.

    It’s a good problem since you’re so good at everything! 👏
    👏👏👏👏

    • Always great to receive praise so I’m going to bask in the glory for a moment, lol.

      Great to see you here, Cindy, and I love how cheerful you always are in the comments. Because of that, you make me feel cheerful too.

      Thanks as always for stopping by and sharing your awesome vibes!

      • You deserve it Stu!
        You speak your heart, make us laugh and continue to reach for your best self!

        What else is there?!!!!
        You deserve at least a day of fame cuz that’s what you always do here. Oh I’m happy to hear that you feel cheerful Stu!
        After all, you do that whenever you show up here!

        It’s really my pleasure… send a good vibe and receive one right?
        That’s how we roll!

        Until next time.. .. stay well!! 💖😘🙏

  15. I enjoyed this post very much. I chuckled a lot while reading it. Stuart, you have such a knack for writing.
    I love teaching. Especially young children because they are receptive, and I could make Science and Math lessons interesting, fun and creative for them to learn and for me to teach!
    I agree with, “Perhaps what’s most important is that through teaching, I’ve learned how to learn.” Yes, we never stop learning.
    I remember when one of my third-graders asked a question for which I didn’t have an exact answer. When I said I would look up the answer and tell him, he was stunned and said, “I thought because you are a teacher, you know everything.”
    I was so sorry to burst his bubble but had to admit that I don’t know everything. And just as my students learn from me, I learn from them.

    • That’s exactly what I felt! That as much as I’m supposed to be the one ‘teaching’, that I’m actually learning as much as they are. It’s hard to really put into words though.

      Am so grateful for your kind words. You really know how to pep a writer’s day from halfway across the world :P

      I appreciate you for being here, Chaya!

  16. “I see your boredom, but can’t do anything about it”

    This part got me laughing hard!

    And you are a very good teacher

  17. I taught JavaScript for a year, and I’m lucky that my student didn’t thought that I sucked.

    She ended up dropping programming anyway, it was too tough. No amount of good teaching can fix that.

    • Having worked in a coding bootcamp (not teaching, but marketing), I can safely say that yes, it can be a tough subject indeed, especially when taught in a non-coddling, bootcamp way, where frustration is the norm. And JavaScript is probably more challenging than languages like Ruby, so yeah, you had your work cut out for you, lol.

  18. Imposter syndrome is in full effect when I teach. But I don’t think it’ll ever go away. I just try to use it to my advantage by letting it fuel my desire to improve.

    • That’s super interesting. My old mentoring mentor used to tell me that nervousness was good, because that showed that you still cared. I still remember that advice today. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brad!

  19. Lies! I come to your blog to learn and I always find something great to take away. Sure this is how you see yourself but I’d buy a class from you ANY time to help me be a better writer. I’ve actually been searching for classes to take online this autumn because I want to learn and I want to do better but I’m always thankful for the free tips you give away here. That’s what makes your blog special. You’re a better teacher than you think you are and encouragement not being in short supply helps grow peoples confidence. It’s not a weakness in my opinion. Anywho those are just my thoughts on the matter. Take them as you will but keep posting!!

    • You always bring nothing but awesome comments, LaShelle, but this one could be the one that takes the cake. Here’s your medal :p

      Because you sure did brighten my day with your words, and I really appreciate you taking the time to give such positive encouragement. You’ve certainly fanned my flames for continuing to share all I can.

      Thanks once again for being such a positive presence here!

  20. This is exactly me as a teacher minus the jokes part. I have realised too early in the game that I am just not a jokes person. And practiced jokes scare me even more coz when I deliver it seems too mechanical to me ( don’t know about the students) All the other ones the ‘fun activities’, being generous with praise and the copious notes true!

    • Haha yeah, jokes require such precise timing that it adds a whole new problem to the presentation. My jokes usually fall flat too, but it’s always comforting to know that I have ‘material’ on standby.

      So glad that you can relate! That does help me feel like I’m not alone and am just winging it with crappy techniques as a teacher, lol.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  21. Why did this post remind me of how much I love teaching? Hah! I actually think many of these points show that you are a good teacher. You are teaching people to be good writers here, too, so it comes naturally to you! My first year of teaching, I had way too many notes, and too much down-time that I desperately tried to fill, and I would practice my lessons like a speech the night before (lol, super impractical). I’m over a decade in now, and I can truthfully say that cheesy jokes and thoughtful questions are totally solid ways to engage a classroom– especially if it fits your personality. I think the best thing I learned is that I needed to be true to myself: yes, I’m a teacher, but I’m a human, too, and letting my students see that made my teaching more effective.

    • It’s so wonderful to know that a teacher of your stature can relate. Makes me feel less of a noob, to be honest, especially when it comes to filling time. I always feel like a hack every time I have to burn an hour without the students noticing. Of course, they’re often stoked about having free time, or not having to listen to me talk so much, but I can’t shake the thought that I’m wasting their time, all because of bureaucracy.

      Anyway, I’m super grateful to have your perspective as an experienced teacher. Thanks for taking the time to share!

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