Safety Publications/Articles

If you can't teach it, you don't know it

One of the exercises I perform to amuse myself is attempting to explain a difficult topic, aviation or otherwise, to someone who has no knowledge of or background in the subject. Why?

First, if I don't understand a topic, then I usually can't teach it to someone else. The act of teaching excels at revealing those gaps in our knowledge of a subject. This is especially true when a student asks good questions or is proficient at making faces that resemble a cat trying to understand the window-frame force field known as "glass." In Illusions, Richard Bach says that we teach best what we need to learn most. So pick a topic and test yourself. See how well you can help someone who doesn't know anything about the subject understand it. Try helping someone "get" the concept of pressure altitude, or the difference between true airspeed and groundspeed.

The other reason I enjoy this exercise is it helps me forge better explanations for topics. For instance, when I taught three-day ground schools, I developed three entirely different explanations to communicate the principles of VOR navigation. Through continuous experimentation on friends (those who didn't try to avoid me when I was in the mood to teach), I finally honed one explanation to near perfection. It worked on everyone and became the foundation of the presentations that I give today.

Teaching is a craft. A true artist is constantly perfecting his or her work. Have a little fun while you're at it. For instance, if someone asks you to explain time distortion and relativity, just say, "The length of one minute depends on which side of the bathroom door you happen to be on."

By Rod Machado

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