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  • Rukmini Ravishankar

To Learn is to Teach Twice

I face the whiteboard in my room and write ‘Ceteris Paribus’. My students wonder what it means. I hold the marker in my hand and flip it like you would a pen, and walk around my room explaining it. I look at my students and tell them, “‘Ceteris Paribus’ is the assumption that when we are considering a quantity or a group of quantities, every other quantity outside our frame of reference, remains constant.” My students are bewildered. I tell them, “Hey, don’t look at me like that, everyone, my Economics teacher included, thinks this is stupid.” They laugh. I laugh. I continue. “This is one of the major disadvantages posed by Microeconomics. All subjects consider the possibility of change. Philosophy, in fact explicitly states it – nothing is permanent.” They all nod in agreement. Suddenly, my mother pokes her head in. She doesn’t notice my students. I don’t wonder why. She asks me, ‘Were you just talking to somebody?’. I say, ‘I was teaching’. She understands and walks away. I turn back to my students. “As I was saying…”, and I continue. A good 45 minutes later, I wonder aloud, “Do you guys like my teaching? I mean, do you think, in the name of explaining a concept, I’m simply changing the voice of the statement and repeating it?”. To make myself clearer, I say in a mocking tone. “‘The market determines the prices. The prices are determined by the market. Let’s move on to the next point’. That’s all I’m doing, isn’t it? God, I am a terrible teacher”. My students don’t say anything. A few subheadings later, I sit down on my bed, stretching my legs on to one of my students’ desk. She winces. I don’t notice. I continue my explanation. As I begin to walk away, I hear her sigh of relief. I turn around and apologise. This is just one of the days in my imaginary school world. The way I see it, no one is harmed. I use my imagination to envision my room as a classroom full of listening students, who conveniently don’t ask any questions. I have a board, a loud voice, and the necessity to teach – not for money, but to actually learn (which is supposed to be one of the purposes of anybody teaching, by the way). I make timetables, I tell them what we’re going to be doing for the day, I encourage them, and unlike any other teacher, when I come across some topic I haven’t the slightest clue about, I simply say that. How lucky am I, to have a set of students who don’t complain to the principal about my nonexistent knowledge on all 4 subjects that I teach? Pretty lucky. On a serious note, though, teaching, is an efficient way to learn more. By teaching, even if my imagination is the only thing listening, I think more, I put those complex words in simpler terms and I understand more. I learn more – about the subject and about myself. I understand what it takes to be a good teacher, and I beat myself up over how I can never get there. I wonder what I’d do if a person like me were my teacher. I’d probably be in a chronic and dangerous state of incredulity. But it helps me regardless. As a teaching student, I advise all of my contemporaries to do this, if you haven’t been doing it already. If you’re worried that your little brother would pop in every now and then and tell you you’re nuts, sit him down and teach him your subject. He’d be so little, you’d have to break every tiny thing down – and that would make you understand things at a whole new level. He’d have the attention span of a dung-beetle, so you’d have to make the subject as engaging as possible – and you’d be engaged in the process. He’d be curious. He’ll ask you questions that your teacher would be silenced by. Answer them, somehow. If you can’t, investigate. That way, studying for exams would actually help you learn something. It’d no longer be a process of binge rote and excretion. Let’s teach to teach ourselves.

Title credits: JOSEPH JOUBERT

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