Can a “Natural” Be a Teacher?

I’ve been a “natural” most of my life.  Aside from the occasional tweak here or there, I’m able to do just about anything I try easily and quickly.  Something in me just knows how to do certain things.  Before you start hating me, let me explain the down side to that . . .

The fact that I intrinsically know how to do something is great, I won’t lie.  However, when someone asks me how I knew how to do it – whatever “it” might be – I find that I often shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know, I just did.”  What’s worse, is when someone wants me to teach them how to do what I’ve just done.

I would be a horrible teacher for two reasons: 1) I don’t always know how to explain the things I know; and 2) I don’t have much patience in teaching something to someone who doesn’t seem to catch on as quickly as I do.

Image of a Cootie CatcherI learned both of these when I was training to do TEFL (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) in Prague.  Our first assignment in the class was to teach our fellow classmates one thing that we knew how to do.  I agonized over this until finally settling on teaching how to make a cootie catcher; you know, those things that girls made in grade school that supposedly told you who you were going to marry, or whatever other random sayings you decided to write in for the final choices.

Anyway, I got all sorts of colored paper and pens, and made one myself, just to make sure I remembered how.  I thought it would be easy to teach someone how to make one, because it’s just a series of folds.  I had also planned to create one with them, while waking them through the process.  However, I didn’t write down my steps to make sure I knew how to teach them.  So when I got there, people kept asking me for clarification, which got me flustered.  I remember thinking, “Don’t you see what I’m doing here?  Just copy that.” with increasing frustration.  Our instructor later told us that the lesson was for us to learn just how not-easy it is to be a teacher.  Lesson learned.

A couple weeks later, during one of my initial trials in front of a classroom, I felt totally flustered, and out of sorts with the whole teaching thing – even though I had prepared my lesson much better than that first one – and decided then and there that I shouldn’t be a teacher.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a great grasp of the finer points of the English language (as I’m sure many of my fellow writers can tell), so if someone were to ask me what a dangling participle is, or why we pronounce the “gh” in words only sometimes, I’d be left flustered again.  That frustration would be a mix of wanting to say “we just do”, and feeling like I failed – which I’ll admit is part of my perfectionist mentality.

I even have this same problem when it comes to recipes.  I make a killer salsa, but don’t ever ask me for the recipe, because I won’t give it to you.  It’s not that its a secret . . . I just don’t have one.  I’m happy to tell you the ingredients, but the ratio, well that’s just a “by guess and by golly” thing for me.  I actually tried to write the recipe down once, and the person to whom I had given it came back and said that it didn’t turn out the same for them.  All I could do was apologize and promise them some of the next batch.

So, that explains the first reason I’m not a good teacher, but how about the second?  Lack of patience.  That one . . . I’m not sure where it comes from, but I know that it causes tension sometimes.  I don’t mean to be impatient with people who might learn something in a different way than I do.  I think it’s more that, since I’m a pretty quick study, I can’t fathom why others can’t pick things up as fast.  Logically I know that we’re all different, but when I’m in the moment of showing someone how to do something, that logic flies right out of the room, and I’m left tch-ing them in my head, or silently sighing that I need to walk through the steps more slowly.  My apologies to anyone who’s ever asked me to teach them something and has been on the brunt end of my impatience.

So, back to the question . . . can a “natural” be an effective teacher?  I don’t know.  I think it takes an awful lot of hard work and persistence to be a good teacher.  So, if someone’s naturally able to do something, they wouldn’t have to work hard to learn it.  Many naturals often skim the surface of something, and don’t take the time to learn the intricacies involved.  So we wouldn’t be able to teach someone who needs to know every aspect of how to do something before they do it.  Their brains are just wired to need more information, whereas I suspect a naturals’ brain isn’t.

It would be nice if I were wrong, and I hope I am.  I just know that this natural can’t teach.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dana
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 10:42:35

    I think it’s absolutely possible for someone to be naturally good at something and teach. My dance teacher is a great example. But you have to have the personality for it as well and the ability to translate thinks that are instinctive to you into words that someone else can understand. I suck at teaching ’cause I lack the patience and that ability.


  2. Mom
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 12:55:47

    Again, just one more facet of each spectrum. You reflect on your experience in Prague, but I’m sure there have been times when you have taught someone something, & it went well. Sometimes it definitely depends on what &/or who we are trying to teach.


  3. Anne MacKay
    May 03, 2011 @ 19:45:53

    I think patience is the key. If you are a natural AND if you have the patience to break down how you do something into understandable, simple steps, then you can teach. Your problem is that you lack the patience to stop and figure out how you do something. You will be wonderful at doing things, so enjoy that. But don’t try to teach until you acquire the patience.

    Now, if someone comes along who can watch what you do and do the breaking down, then you will be able to teach that person.

    As an example, I’ve seen all this when I was teaching figure skating. I never skated as a child but did a lot of dancing. I began teaching figure skating as an adult, transferring my dance skills to the ice. It worked because I had the patience to 1) break down the parts of each maneuver, and 2) observe each student to see which parts of the maneuver were not being performed correctly (back not straight, knee not bent, head tilted, etc.).

    There were teachers who were naturals who taught by example. The only students who could learn well from them were naturals themselves at imitating movement and were able to translate what they saw into how their bodies were to move. But these teachers, who had not the patience to break down the moves, could not teach students who could not do that.


  4. Alyx Morgan
    May 04, 2011 @ 16:52:56

    You’re absolutely right, Anne. Patience is the key to teaching, as it is with just about everything else in life.

    Thanks for stopping by! 🙂


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