It started when I found a wallet at the airport.
Well, I noticed it.
A thick brown leather wallet was relaxing in a nook between the chair I was sitting in and the chair the older gentleman next to me was sitting in.
I pointed and asked, “excuse me sir, is that your wallet?”
“No.” He quickly grabbed it and took it to the Lufthansa counter a few meters away. (He obviously didn’t trust me.)
When he came back we started chatting about losing wallets and other things.
Eventually it came out that him and his wife (sitting beside him) are schoolteachers who were laid off, then left the US to teach at international schools, and have been living in France for 3 years after retiring.
Me: “Oh, so you speak French?”
Him: “Oh, no, I’m bad at learning languages.”
Me: “Interesting. Isn’t learning a language sort of like learning anything? You have to put some work into it.”
Him: “No. I just can’t learn a language.”
His wife (again, also a retired schoolteacher): “He’s really bad at languages. Just like I could never learn math. I just don’t get numbers.”
Me (in my head): “Wow.”
Me (out of my mouth): nothing but appalled silence.
The sad thing is this isn’t uncommon.
I know there are great teachers out there, but I never had them. When a friend or colleague talks about a favorite or inspiring teacher I always get jealous. I wanted one of the good ones! But the fact that most people have just one great teacher out of hundreds over a 20 year school career is telling.
The point is: you don’t go to school to learn because the people employed by “learning” institutions aren’t there to teach. Not necessarily because they don’t want to. I’m sure most have good intentions. But they can’t teach because they don’t even know how to learn.
So how do you learn when the people paid to teach you aren’t cutting it? Well, you learn on your own. You seek out books and people who’ve done what you want to do. You fail here and there. You make mistakes. You don’t do it because you want to get a good grade or impress your parents or get a “good” job. But because you simply want to – need to – learn.
And then, I hope, when someone asks you teach them what you learned.
[UPDATE] This video almost made me cry: