Teach in Order to Learn

They say that to really learn something well you should teach. They also say to teach what you know. So which is it?

You don’t need to be an expert to get started teaching. For years I had a mild interest but not the confidence to teach. But I love sharing information and helping people and really that’s all teaching is about.

How I finally got started

Several years ago I visited Italy on my birthday. This was a turning point and landmark event in my life. I was going through some big life changes and I had made the decision to look for a new job when I returned home from the trip. My intention was to start using the new graduate degree that I was very slowing putting to use as a freelancer while I continued working my well paying bartending job.

However, while in Italy I was offered a job teaching English in a language school. Well, now that’s something I had never considered before but it looked like a great opportunity that I could do to achieve another far off dream of mine – living in Italy. As an artist and someone who has been in love with most things Italian since a child, I jumped at the chance. After all, I was a native English speaker and always considered myself pretty good with grammar. How hard could it be?

Fail Forward Fast

Several entrepreneurs have heard of this concept. When I was younger I was too insecure to do this. I clung onto what was safe, known, or what others suggested as the “right path” I should follow in life. After taking the “safe road” for many years I was miserable and it was only getting worse. I stopped listening to what others told me I should do and started studying under people who took big risks in life and were boldly rewarded by their actions.

I started finding like-minded people who weren’t satisfied with a life of mediocrity and going into debt in order to out do the Joneses in their life. I started experimenting and breaking the rules of the society in which I was raised. I re-examined what I wanted and started to follow my own path, sometimes to extremes to see just how far I could go.

Fail forward fast means to take the leap before the net is there and just do it. If it doesn’t work out at first just right, keep going and adjusting until you learn your way. Eventually you will create your own path.

“Business is bad.”

I returned home from my birthday trip with this new job offer and switched gears. I started looking at all it would take to get to Italy as fast as possible in order to accept the job. I found a school to attend classes and applied for a student visa, bought a plane ticket, did all of the necessary paperwork to bring my dog and cat with me, and found an apartment. On top of this I was completing a renovation project in my current apartment and preparing to spend my last Christmas holiday with my family.

In 3 months time I had it all sorted out for my move, but before I arrived the job offer fell apart. “Business is bad. I don’t have the hours for you I promised.” There was no work. I had already spent a bunch of money, told everyone I knew I was going, and had given notice at my current job. I’d look like an ass if I didn’t go now.

“I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

As you can imagine I was kinda pissed when I learned of this news. What I realized and was able to accept quickly through my prior personal development work is that this job offer was only a catalyst in my life to do something I always wanted to do.

I released my anger and took on the attitude of figuring it out when I get there. I had balls and everyone who knew my story was impressed. I decided that there surely must be other language schools willing to hire me and that Rome could offer me more opportunities than just this one.

As it turns out, most of the other schools, the ones more stable with an established and respected business name, wanted only teachers with experience and more importantly a teaching certification. I had neither. Also I had a scheduling conflict with the classes I had signed up for. My classes as a student overlapped the time I was needed to be at any school as a teacher.

So until my school finished I found a job once again as a bartender. Whew! Except the money for this sort of work in Italy sucks compared to the money I earned back in America and I suffered in many ways during this time, including a huge lack of sleep. By summer I needed a new job and found a family to teach through play with their young kids during the school break. It didn’t pay too much, but it got me through the next month when the new job I found working in tourism started up.

Soon I was putting in a lot of hours and slowing building a good business working from home. I decided it was time to move away from Rome where the cost of living was cheaper and I could once again enjoy my life by the sea which I missed terribly. I hoped to find some balance since the work was seasonal and during high season it was impossible to work on my art or even enjoy any social life with friends.

More Changes

The tour operator I was working for was not interested in working with me fairly. He wanted to lower my wages and I refused. I dissolved my work relationship with him and opened my own small operation as I returned to the idea of teaching, the original job I came to Italy for, as a main source of income until my business grows.

Fortunately I finally met the right people and connected with a couple of individuals who have helped me greatly. I went on to get my teaching certification as I started my new teaching career. I was nervous at first, as with any new job, but with time I started to grow more comfortable and confident with what I was teaching and developed my own method.

It all comes together

I’m still learning all of the time and improving how I teach. I’ve started challenging some of my students with new projects in a very untraditional way. They enjoy it and in the process I’m learning more about a different subject I want to master – creative writing.

You see, during my master’s program I developed an idea to create a series of children’s books that I’m now finally working to produce called Fun with Lulu. I’ve spent time researching how to be a better writer, especially for children’s books. I’m also practicing my drawing skills more.

At school I’m challenging a few of my classes to write short stories rather than strictly following the typical language learning books to teach English. From this I can see where each student is struggling with different aspects of the grammar and can give them other exercises that will help them individually improve.

By observing them closely in this way I’m also becoming more aware of my own learning deficiencies with the Italian language that I feel has been too slow to improve due to always working in English and not exposing myself to more natives for deeper conversations beyond the day to day chit-chat about shopping or the weather.

By teaching I’m finally learning more about writing and improving my own mastery of the Italian language so that I can write better books and hopefully have more success when I finally publish them.

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