Have you ever tried to explain how a folding machine actually folds paper to someone with no knowledge of bindery equipment? Perhaps you’ve tried explaining how a saddle-stitched book is made. It’s one thing to absorb enough knowledge so that we can do our jobs. We know how to learn for ourselves. It’s quite another thing to teach what we’ve learned to someone else.
You might for instance, fully understand the mechanics of paper folding. Then just as you think you’ve successfully explained it to a newcomer you are met with that silent, blank stare that says the listener is thinking about what for lunch. That’s when the job of teaching begins. You struggle to come up with a different way to convey the same information. But that’s also the point at which you begin to learn what it is that you don’t know about the subject.
We all have different preferences in how we learn. Some of us prefer visual info (pictures, graphs, or drawings), others prefer tactile methods (hands on the machine), and others are auditory (listen as you explain.) We’re usually a mix of all three.
So as you verbally describe how paper folding is accomplished, the listener might be trying to picture how it happens. If your words don’t paint a vivid picture, then perhaps you draw a picture. If that fails, you go to the machine and show it happening in slow motion. I suspect that most teachers become good at using a mix of all three learning preferences.
Annie Murphy Paul writes in time.com about research on the protégé effect. "Students enlisted to tutor others…work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively." They've also found that student teachers generally score higher than students who are learning just for the sake of learning.
Paul goes on to say that teaching creates an emotional connection between student and teacher. Teachers feel awful when their students fail. But when the pupils succeed, the teachers feel a sense of pride and satisfaction at the pupil’s accomplishment. This is what makes teaching such a powerful learning tool.
In my career I’ve had the good fortune to teach many co-workers a variety of bindery jobs. I say ‘good fortune’ because I was rewarded with more knowledge about my craft which helped my bindery department function better. It’s inevitable that serious students will start to ask “Why?” about nearly everything. Like young children soaking up information about a brand new world, asking “Why?” helps them to understand. And just like those children, they will ask questions that stump you and force you to do some research!
Why do you perforate the head on signatures? Why do you need a special attachment for gate folds? Why can’t you fold 20 point board on a buckle folder? Why do you have to change the compression on the stitcher heads? Why do you have to back-trim paper?
One of my folding machine trainees had plenty of folding experience but none with signatures. He asked me why we weren’t folding a certain signature a different way than the way I showed him. I had no good answer and after some discussion we changed to his easier, faster way. I had simply overlooked something out of habit. And so it is the teacher becomes the student.
Over time as I began to hear repeated troubleshooting questions from trainees it taught me that I was missing something in my explanations. That in turn helped me to re-work my explanations and to systematize the troubleshooting process. This, in turn, made them better operators.
Before you dismiss the idea because it’s not available to you in your job, consider that there are opportunities for teaching you may not have thought about.
Cross-training. If your company isn't hiring, it might be cross-training employees from other departments to do your job and vice versa. It gives the company greater flexibility to survive illness, emergencies, vacations, spikes in demand, and more.
It's also good for the trainee. New skills make the job more interesting. Not only does cross-training make an employee more valuable to the company, just as importantly it can make the employee feel more valuable. It also reduces inter-departmental insulation which makes for a more unified company.
New Hires. This is the obvious opportunity. New people always have to be trained to some extent. Volunteer for the task of teaching or coaching a new hire.
Community Colleges or Trade Schools. You'll probably need a degree of some sort to teach "officially," but experience is often an acceptable credential. Make some phone calls to the departmental heads to see what’s out there.
John Cotton Dana, a librarian and museum director who promoted the benefits of reading and learning said, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” Don’t be fearful of sharing or stingy with your expertise. Teaching invites new conversations and opportunities that can generate tangible rewards and real dollars.
So go ahead and teach. Share your printing skills or bindery skills. I dare you! You could be pleasantly surprised. Feel free to share your teaching stories below or use the social buttons to share this article with your colleagues.