The line “Those who dare to teach, must never cease to learn” has been attributed to Socrates and some other smart folks. It has been a maxim for me as an instructor and I’m taking it particularly more literally this term.  I am a student in CSL 100, “Introduction to Community Engagement.”

When martial arts masters have had their black belts long enough, they naturally start to turn white (the belts that is). Perhaps after hitting a pinnacle in teaching, it’s a perfect time to step back into the position of learner. Over the years, I’ve taken at least one course a year where I get to be a student, at least for a weekend. I believe it is valuable to feel the uncertainties, to have the discomfort of whether or not to contribute, and to worry about assessments. It creates a greater sense of compassion when one returns to the instructor’s role.

There is new learning by taking it up a notch and putting myself in an undergraduate course. What is the best way to get to the Humanities building? Where is my classroom? Who are all these people? The dead silence on the first day is really uncomfortable.  Am I going to fit in? What will we be asked to do? Will this be relevant to my needs?  Having presented a session to graduate teaching assistants the week before “Your First Class: How to Make it First Class,” I had a few ideas about what should be going on.

Many of my experiences on the first three days of class helped to reinforce my core beliefs and practices about building a classroom community. When we finally got to meet the other students in the class, the entire energy and atmosphere of the room opened. The shift was palpable and I noticed I was relaxed and happier. I’m disappointed I’ll miss class on Tuesday – and there’s an odd joy in having to tell my teacher I’ll be absent because I’m doing a keynote.

One of the best compliments I ever received from a student came from Nicolas Allen (who was a gem as an undergrad and is making me proud as he’s gone on to become a sport psychologist): “The amazing thing of Billy was that for every question you had, he had two for you. Billy not only helped me learn, but he was continually learning from me as well. To me that was his strongest quality; his ability to teach me but to also learn something from me and each and every one of his students.”

When I think back on the many wonderful mentors and teachers I’ve had, they shared that quality of curiosity and seemed as excited to learn from me as I was to receive their wisdom. There is clearly a cyclical process of teaching and learning. There is something powerful in stepping into the structured role of student to embrace beginner’s mind while learning anew through a veteran’s eyes. And it’s quite a kick to be sitting in class with first year students who turn out to be classmates with your son.

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