“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” ― Phil Collins
The path of the teacher, although an often underrated and overlooked occupation, is a truly noble path. Indeed, the ability to teach others effectively is one of the most valuable and vital skill sets you could ever possess. Good teaching goes far beyond simply explaining how to do something; it is a process that explores not only the theory behind a subject, but also provides experiences so that understanding is complete and functional. It answers the whys, the hows, the whens, the what fors, and the how comes of a given topic, and then lets the students gain practical knowledge to make the subject tangible and real.
However, the student isn’t the only one who benefits from this process. In the dedicated teaching of others, we as instructors are equally changed. You can grow, expand, and refine your perception in both your communication skills and in the understanding of the information you share. This is especially true for subjects related to human potential, healing, or self-development. As a teacher of meditation, yoga, and martial arts, I have witnessed a profound shift in my personal evolution through the process of teaching others. It has been, and continues to be, a valuable tool for expanding my awareness.
The following are ways in which teaching can serve you as a vehicle for self-growth and transformation:
1. Teaching Deepens and Refines Your Understanding of the Subject
To be a good teacher, you must become a subject matter expert. A casual or shallow understanding of the material will not suffice for you to adequately share your knowledge with others. This commitment to deepened understanding may take the form ongoing education, continued research, or supplementary training to help fill any gaps in your understanding. Teaching requires that you know your subject inside and out.
Although it might sound like a lot of extra work or a chore to continually be studying and learning, if the subject is one that is close to your heart, the additional learning you undergo will be a labor of love that takes your understanding to a much higher level. This process becomes a cycle—as you deepen your knowledge you have more to share with your students.
2. Teaching Builds Self-Confidence
The more you do something, the better at that activity you become. This certainly applies to teaching. The more frequently you teach, the more you build the neuronets in your brain that help strengthen your skill set for teaching.
I recall a time when I had just received a teaching certification and was unsure of myself as a new instructor; I didn’t feel qualified to teach due to my lack of experience. In sharing my concerns with my instructor, he encouraged me to simply teach what I had learned, and in doing so, my confidence in the material and in myself as a teacher would grow. This was the best advice I could have received because as I taught, I became both a better student and a better teacher. In the same way, your confidence will grow in direct proportion to the amount of time you spend teaching. Eventually teaching with confidence will become a habit and part of who you are.
3. Teaching Helps You Metabolize Information
As you share your knowledge with others, especially in the fields of yoga, meditation, etc., you will begin to internalize the teachings and truly “become” them. Knowledge of any kind becomes metabolized at a deep level and with regular repetition, it becomes a part of who you are. You are then no longer simply regurgitating the teachings; you are a living example of them. They are expressing themselves through you and your life becomes an embodiment of the principles, concepts, and ideas you teach.
For example, the first and second branches of Yoga Philosophy, the Yamas (rules of social behavior) and the Niyamas (rules of personal behavior), could be easily interpreted as lists of shoulds and should-nots. However, as these guidelines become internalized, they spontaneously become the personality traits of an evolutionary and enlightened being. You therefore don’t have to try to walk the talk, the teachings walk through you spontaneously.
4. Teaching Leads to Stronger Student-Teacher Relationships
At its most fundamental level, teaching is about the relationship between teacher and student. The way in which you relate to your students and the tools you use to communicate ideas and concepts is vitally important—the more you teach, the more you develop your own unique method of expression that will ideally strengthen those relationships.
A good teacher understands different learning styles and knows how to reach his or her students by meeting them at their own level. Intentional use of metaphor, analogies, or personal stories can help make the material more relatable and can bring abstract or esoteric ideas into the real world for better understanding. Understanding a topic yourself is only the first step; the real challenge is being able to translate the teachings in a way that others can understand. Or as Albert Einstein once said, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” This is a skill that comes with both practice and the conscious intention to communicate in a simple and direct manner.
5. Teaching Builds Humility
Truly great teachers are very humble people. They know intuitively that they themselves always have more to learn and are often in awe of the teachings they share. Dedicated teaching can help you recognize that you don’t own the knowledge you pass along to your students, rather you are simply the instrument through which knowledge flows. You can’t really ever possess knowledge—it has always existed and you are just its current stewards that pass it along to the next generation of learners.
6. Teaching Leads to an Expanded Sense of Service
Committed and enthusiastic teachers do what they do out of a deep sense of service to the world. As mentioned earlier, teaching can be a very underrated and underpaid profession. Yet dedicated teachers continue to teach and help expand the awareness of others, not necessarily for an immediate material reward, but in the knowing that their efforts are helping to make the world a better place.
A teacher living their Dharma, or purpose in life, is often doing so out of a deeply rooted need to serve the world with their skills for communication, leadership, and guidance. They have chosen to serve the world by shining the light of awareness into the darkness of ignorance. Through teaching, this expanded sense of service can eventually become its own unique reward.
7. Teaching Helps You Live Your Truth with the Highest Level of Integrity
In ancient times, teachers were highly revered for their understanding, wisdom, and insight. Although our modern age has yet to reawaken to the vital role teachers play in the welfare of our society, as educators, we are part of a legacy of seekers and transmitters of truth that reaches back through the centuries. Understanding this, you have a responsibility to the future as a carrier of the light from the past into the future. As such, you will become both inspired and committed to living impeccably for the betterment of the world. This is not something you should take lightly; teachers need to set the example for their students to follow. This is the true legacy of teaching, or as the 14th Dalai Lama reminds us, “Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
So, if you’re undecided about setting out on the teacher’s path, either through the Chopra Center or another university or institution, recognize the incredible untapped potential that exists in teaching others. Few experiences are as gratifying and fulfilling as hearing that what you have taught impacted or transformed the life of a student for the better.