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  • Writer's pictureSumbella

When my student becomes my teacher

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

It is early in the morning. The sky is still dark outside, but the screen in front of my face seems far too bright suddenly.

I am teaching a virtual lesson online. 

I am staring at that bright screen, and my brain power is on at high speed. I'm looking at the Chinese lesson slides that I created for one of my most amazing students. And in this moment, there is silence, as I consider the slide on the screen with my mouth half-open - about to speak.

Here I am, caught in the spot of re-thinking how to explain something I first learned more than 10 years ago. 

I can almost see a flashback of my Chinese teacher in London peering down at me as I asked them a similar question to the one my student has just asked me. 

In this moment, I feel three things:

  1. Humility. I’m the real student here. 

  2. Respect. Here is a student who is totally engaged and focused, and so committed to learning. It inspires me to always try and level up too. 

  3. Gratitude. I am grateful to have a student who cares enough about the details of what they are learning, and who could ask such a good question. 

Slowly, as I remember the explanation I’ve been reaching around in my brain’s backlog of “Chinese files from 2008” for, I break into a smile, and then a laugh. I’ve got it. With a quick explanation and a reference check, we clear up the point smoothly and move on. 

However, the learning lingers with me.

I am thankful my student noticed the detail. And I realise: when one teaches another, there are really two people learning. 

I’m not just talking about Chinese. This experience deepens my belief that everyone should have someone they talk to often, who makes them learn, and re-learn what they already know. Someone who helps them think, and rethink what they know. 

It doesn’t need to be a teacher.

Teachers are everywhere. In many ways, every learner is a teacher. 

It could be a family member, a friend, a mentor, or even a media personality who shares their professional thinking publicly. 

To enable ourselves to grow, there is nothing that will push us to improve a skill, a craft, or even our own ideas, than by teaching and explaining something you know to another person. And you’ll know it’s done well, when they can teach it to someone else effectively too. 

Coming back to the virtual lesson I wrote about in this post; of course, when I signed off that lesson, my student laughed as I said,

“Goodbye, teacher!” | "再见,老师!"

  1. A nod to Ankesh for the idea about teaching what you know to develop your craft

  2. And to the student mentioned in this story - 太谢谢你了,老师! ;) 

  3. For anyone reading who was curious about the question, it was about the possible meanings of '呢' in an example sentence we were reading. 

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