Jeremy Côté


Expertise Does Not Imply Teaching Skills

One of the incorrect assumptions I’ve long made is about teaching. Basically, I would get excited by the prospect of teaching some sort of concept to another person, and so I would work very hard on the presentation. However, there would inevitably come a moment when I’d realize that I wasn’t actually an expert in what I was talking about, so I would decide to stop the project.

My thinking went something like this: if I couldn’t be an absolute expert on the subject, then I couldn’t teach it. And obviously, since I am just a student and it is very difficult to be an expert in anything, who was I trying to explain concepts to people?

This crippled me for a while, and it still does (to a certain extent). The difference is that I’m now more aware of the truth, which is that teaching means bridging the gap between one level of expertise (a higher one) to the other (slightly lower, who is looking to learn). Therefore, the only requirement to be a teacher to someone is to know more than they do.

This is truly a new perspective on how to view teaching. It’s not about a bunch of students who know nothing that are taught by these experts who know everything. Instead, it’s about teachers sharing what they know in the hopes that the students can get to the same “level” as them.

Additionally, teachers don’t necessarily start as experts. Imagine you wanted to drive from your home to a new place. The first time you take the route, you’re constantly unsure of yourself, continually checking the roads to make sure you’re still on track. Now imagine trying to show that person the route after that first day. It will be somewhat difficult, right? However, if you’re asked to show them after doing the route a hundred times, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to show them the route with zero difficulty. Repetition breeds expertise.

The problem is that students don’t see this repetition. Unless they get a teacher who is just beginning, the teacher already knows what they are doing. Therefore, it appears to the student as if the teacher has no difficulty at all with the content. If a student then wants to teach (not necessarily as a profession, but perhaps just by writing articles, or tutoring, etc.), the illusion they’ve seen is that teachers are experts in their subjects, therefore they need to be an expert as well.

I can attest to this experience. I looked at my teachers, as well as other science educators online, and couldn’t imagine myself being in the same league as them. Looking at their content, I seemed so unsure in my information about science and mathematics, while those I looked to seemed confident. This stopped me from thinking I could be as good of a teacher.

If there’s a piece of advice I could offer, it’s this: don’t give up on teaching/education because you don’t feel like you have enough expertise. If you’re really passionate about teaching, the knowledge of the material will come in time. It’s a matter of repetition. Keep at it, and you will get better. As long as you’re teaching someone that is one “level” below you, consider yourself a teacher.