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We Learn by Teaching

by Robert Meagher on 11/02/18


There is an old saying, “We learn what we want to teach. And we teach what we want to learn.” A recent experience made this wonderful teaching come to life.

I have recently been blessed to teach English to students of other languages (TESOL; what used to be called ESL). The students of other languages in this case are Chinese children between the ages 6 - 12. A given student’s ability to speak English varies widely. Fortunately, the classes are always one-on-one and provide ample opportunity for focused attention on the individual student’s needs.

With few exceptions, classes focus on speaking English, saying words and short sentences. More advanced students are encouraged to engage in conversation and expand their vocabulary. For a lucky few, grammar is brought into the class environment.

Being a native English speaker, speaking and writing in the English language feels quite natural. However, something that has never felt natural to me is English grammar. Subject, object, predicate, adjective, verb, adverb, conjunction, etc. Sometimes it feels like I am speaking another language when I start to use grammatical terms. Needless to say I have struggled with grammar much of my life. For the most part I memorized the rules but it never came natural to me. So when the opportunity to teach grammar to Chinese children presented itself, memories of my own struggles with grammar came rushing in.

But this time around, something quite interesting emerged. As I prepared myself to teach grammar, I ended up teaching myself (stated with the utmost humility). The more I taught grammar, the more I learned grammar. And the more I learned grammar, the more respect and appreciation I had for grammar. And the more respect and appreciation I gained for grammar, the more I enjoyed it.

The experience brought the ancient teachings come to life: “We learn what we want to teach. And we teach what we want to learn.” Perhaps more importantly, I was reminded of the teaching that we and others learn by what we are teaching. If we teach love, we and others learn love. If we teach joy, we and others learn joy. We learn whatever it is we are teaching. The implications for everyday life are profound.

How do we walk through life? What are we teaching? What are we learning?

Robert Meagher has been ordained as an Interfaith Minister and certified as a Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) Therapist. Robert is the Founder and Spiritual Director for Spiritual Guidance and Co-Founder of the Center for Human Awakening.


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