Teaching the Teacher

Will I ever learn to listen to my own advice?

Tonight was the first night of an MBA seminar in which I ask my students to examine their attitudes toward success and failure. Since we’re all surrounded, all the time, by people and situations over which we have no control, it isn’t enough to decide what you want to happen, or even to work hard for what you want.

The brutal fact is that success often relies heavily on good luck. Failure, even if it isn’t “our fault,” is often life’s best teacher.

Having taught this seminar twice before, to positive reviews, I expected my class to be eager and willing. They were not. I was confronted by a sea of faces that almost dared me to make the next three hours interesting. I knew I was in trouble when several of them announced they were taking the class because it was “the only one that fit their schedule.”

Over the next few hours, a few heads nodded in agreement or bodies leaned forward to listen as I raised a topic or idea that seemed to resonate. But overall, keeping them engaged was hard work, harder than I expected it to be.

Hummh. Harder than I expected it to be. Expected based on what? Why would prior years’ reviews be relevant? Every class is different … different personalities, different life situations, different needs. And why would this group care — if indeed they knew — how last year’s class responded?

If this class is to be a success, I have to meet them on their own territory. I have to deal with their issues, not the issues that were important to my class a year ago. I have to get rid of my own expectations.


  1. Thirty years of teaching general and special education, grades 1 through 8, and no two years were ever alike. You’ve captured the true meaning of “New Year.”

  2. Oh yes, Mary, every class is different and each year we throw out the book and start again trying to connect with young minds that are distracted and bombarded with instant everything EXCEPT knowledge. What a challenge!

  3. Mary
    Uchitele. This is the Russian word for both I learn and for I teach. When I taught English in Kazakhstan I learned do much more than I ever taught. Good to find a kindred spirit.