I’ve heard -- on more than one occasion and in more than one way -- that if you really want to learn a skill, teach a class.
The irony is that 40 years ago, I left for college and headed to Ohio Northern University as a painting major getting a teaching degree. My path diverged greatly, not just in college but in the years to come. (More on that later!)
Yet it was just a few months ago that I taught my very first class.
It’s true, what they say: Teaching sharpens your own skills. What I’ve discovered though, and what’s keeping the spark alive for me to keep teaching now and in the future, is that teaching is also a phenomenal way to stay curious.
When we teach for others, we have to let our biases go. We have to consider how others learn. We have to identify that which we don’t know, and be willing to explore it.
It’s this perpetual state of curiosity we have to stay in as teachers that has me fully in love with being one, myself.
In my first class that I taught, for example, I had six students gathered in the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery in downtown Canandaigua.
We were riffing on the basics of plein air painting. Basics I’ve known, practiced, and honed over decades now -- yet teaching them to people learning for the first time inspired me to get curious about what those basics really are, how they might be interpreted differently, and what’s really important.
I had to get curious about things I’ve practiced for so many years. The materials we choose as painters. The way we interpret and use light. The application of strokes on a canvas. When we teach, that which has become second nature to us suddenly becomes the subject of our curiosity -- and rightly so, as we seek to influence and inspire others.
As humans, it’s all too easy to fall into patterns and routines. These aren’t always bad -- but they often stop working for us long before we’ve realized it. Consistent questioning (what I like to think of as perpetual curiosity) of things so ingrained in us might be frustrating in some instances, yet it’s truly the only way to keep growing.
Teaching inspires that curiosity. Curiosity is fuel.
In order to keep creating, to keep growing, and to keep thoroughly enjoying the journey, it’s imperative that we stay curious. Read a new book. Find a mentor. Teach a class. Find the curiosity catalyst that works for you, and make it a regular part of your life -- it’s perhaps the best way to bulletproof our creativity in a noisy world.