being a teacher is powerful

“It’s not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether or not our work fulfills us. Being a teacher is meaningful.”

This is a quote by Malcolm Gladwell that really hit home.

I love teaching. I love being able to make a difference in people’s lives.

I started out my career in Japan as an English teacher and I always got a kick out of being called a “sensei,” as the same expression used for doctors and martial art masters here. It wasn’t until later that I made the move to become a high performance coach.

Most people think that all a teacher must do is teach, but great teachers do so much more.

Just as CEOs must lead their team, a teacher must lead their students. And in order to lead, they must know how to motivate, organize, and so much more.

The other day, I sat down and made a list of everything I used to do as an English teacher and I was rather surprised how some of them apply to my present career.

At first, the items on the list will seem obvious, but further on down some might surprise you.

Here’s the list I came up with:

  • Conversation
  • Questions
  • Grammar
  • Slang
  • Pronunciation
  • Ice Breakers
  • Idioms / Expressions
  • Speed
  • Mannerisms / reactions
  • Descriptions
  • Culture
  • Travel
  • Why?
  • How to study
  • How to do homework
  • Motivation
  • Positivity
  • Time management
  • Psychology
  • Tools
  • Quality over quantity

As an English teacher naturally I was expected to know the English language inside and out, but what I realized early on is that there’s so much more to teaching a (foreign) language.

Cultural differences can make it hard when learning a language which is why it’s so important that culture be incorporated into the lesson.

It’s one thing to know the expression “I don’t know,” and another to say it with an appropriate gesture.

I found it rather strange that despite teaching mainly adults, I also had to spend time teaching them how to study.

For most of our childhood, we attend school and spend hours doing homework, but few, if any, of us have ever been taught how to study effectively.

I spent a lot of time explaining to students the importance of focusing on quality, not quantity. The exact opposite of what most of us were taught in school. It takes quite an adjustment for some people.

But what surprised me most is how few people knew how to take advantage of the Internet to help their studies; YouTube being my personal favorite.

There are thousands upon thousands of videos that teach everything from yoga to cooking to languages. They’re all there, and for the grand total of zip.

Free, awesome lessons, available to us night and day, practically anywhere in the world.

But above all, the thing I found myself spending the most time on was psychology. In my humble opinion, having the right mindset towards learning (regardless of what subject matter) is the single, most important determinant in a person’s success.

People’s own negative beliefs are often what hold people back, which is why it falls on the shoulders of the teacher to build up a student’s confidence, whether they are six or sixty.

As Tony Robbins says, “People overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!”

For most of us, a year isn’t enough time to master anything. Ten years on the other hand is a whole different ball game.

I always fall back to the advice given in the Bill Murray classic, “What About Bob?” – Baby steps.

Small steps, over time, can lead to big results. The important thing is to keep going, doing a little bit towards your goal each and every day. Perseverance is what separates the winners from the losers in life.

All the lessons I learned from teaching English have helped me be a better coach, allowing me to make a bigger difference than I ever thought possible.

Malcolm Gladwell was right, “being a teacher is meaningful.”

Adrian Shepherd