What I have learnt as a teacher

Today is Teacher’s day and I thought I will take this opportunity to share my experience being a teacher.

First of all, I never intended to be a teacher. But as part of NextBigWhat Academy’s Product Management Course, I have had the privilege to teach product management to 200+ global product professionals, founders and CXOs in the last 1.5 years.

As somebody with no baggage from the past (I never intended to be a teacher to anyone), here are a few things I have learned from my experience.

You Teach Best What You Most Need To Learn


For me, learning why certain products stick, certain don’t has always been an important thing. So in order to learn this, I had to put a product framework to understand the problem statement – which has resulted in a practical course, which is devoid of any theoretical gyaan (and the course content changes with every cohort).

My learnings: If you are into teaching, be a curious learner first.

And if you are somebody who is about to learn from a ‘teacher’, look for a curious teacher and NOT the one who ‘believes he/she knows it all’.

There is nothing called ‘100% teacher, 0% student’.
Great teachers are a perfect balance between the two.

New age teaching is less about ego and more about doing it

Very recently, while going through my kid’s classwork, I realised that his answer to a question (which needed BODMAS) was wrong.

Though the teacher had marked it correct.

In the PTM (Parents-Teacher-Meeting), I asked the teacher an explanation and to my surprise, she refused to admit her mistake. Especially in front of her students.

A M.A.S.S.I.V.E F.A.I.L.

Back in my school / college days, teaching was (and is still) considered a profession where the teacher was supposed to know-it-all and be-always-right.

But not anymore.

As a teacher, you can be a lot more human and be ready to be questioned; and importantly, brave enough to admit your mistakes (STOP being god, this is 2019).

If you are a teacher, start with zero ego and be ready to admit your own mistakes (the world is changing everyday for you to keep a track of).

Sometimes, you learn from your students (in my case, I learn a LOT from all discussions with participants of the product management course).

But this sort of reverse learning mandates one to have zero ego and 100% open mind (and heart).

Very rare among ‘established experienced teachers’ !

With some of the last cohort students

Ignite Curiosity. And Desire to Learn

Since all of NextBigWhat Academy‘s courses are focused on middle-managers and founders, let me tell you one thing: Most of the people in this TG have a great sense of entitlement.

Entitlement about their role (heck! I am a founder), or title (I am ‘senior product manager, but I don’t speak to my customers), it becomes really challenging to ignite curiosity and a desire to learn.

It takes time and effort for one to realise the difference between process, information, knowledge and wisdom.

As a teacher, I often used to get frustrated with this attitude of experienced professional, but now I have realized that it isn’t about people’s willingness to not learn, but the fact that they don’t want to be ‘seen as a fool in front of others’ is what makes them create such guards.

Great teaches bring down such guards and they themselves do not have one.

As you age, you should talk less and listen more.

Of all the things I have learned from my ‘students’, the one consistent element has been that people who have a lot of work experience are the worst learners.

To a point that I often had to shout at such CXOs / founders, for them always had a story to tell (with them, being the hero of the story).

If you are approaching 40 (or way past 40) and you think you have experienced it all, please get down from the pedestal and go for a hike (praying your knees will support you).

Age and Learning are inversely proportional.

Not because you can’t learn after a certain age, but you have an attitude problem.

Talk less. Listen more. Brag none.

Be thankful to your students. Build Relationships.

If your students are not pushing you to answer tough questions, you are doing something wrong. If they are worshipping you, you are DEFINITELY doing something wrong.

Be thankful to those students who are pushing you, asking you crazy questions and forcing you to re-evaluate your own hypothesis.

Plus, every student has his/her life-context, so being too generic is a failure.

In Prof Feynman’s words:

The questions of the students are often the source of new research. They often ask profound questions that I’ve thought about at times and then given up on, so to speak, for a while. It wouldn’t do me any harm to think about them again and see if I can go any further now. The students may not be able to see the thing I want to answer, or the subtleties I want to think about, but they remind me of a problem by asking questions in the neighborhood of that problem. It’s not so easy to remind yourself of these things.

So I find that teaching and the students keep life going, and I would never accept any position in which somebody has invented a happy situation for me where I don’t have to teach. Never.

Being a teacher is a privilege and I continue to be thankful to those who push me to do more!

If you are a teacher, look for those who disagree with you and nurture such talents!

On the sad side of professional courses business, I look around and see many people launching courses – because there is a LOT of money in ‘fooling people‘, giving them false hopes.

It does work in the short run (there are several companies who are making money off such ill intents and some even have a co$y relationship with L&D teams), but great companies build and nurture relationships.

Karma eventually catches up. I hope so.

So focusing on students and their RoI is probably the only thing that will matter in this age and time.

Here is to Teacher’s day.

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