Three Ways Teaching Has Changed My Life

The spring 2016 academic semester is underway and I’m once again teaching a design course in the publishing program at Emerson College. This is my tenth year teaching as an affiliate faculty at Emerson, which is twice as long as I've worked at any one place in my life. That’s because over the years teaching, like design, became a passion and a core part of my identity. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a designer and educator (see the header to this website!). Teaching was never something I planned to do. Like so many of the most influential things in my life, teaching found me by chance and changed my life forever.

Here are three ways teaching changed the course of my life.

1. Financial freedom. For years, teaching was the financial clutch that gave me the confidence to make risky career moves without loosing a steady stream of income. It wasn’t a huge sum of money, but it was enough to get by on.

When I first started teaching I worked a full-time job in publishing. I was able to save enough money to leave my job and pursue freelance work in other areas as well as an internship at a letterpress studio all with a nice comfy “oh shit fund” in the bank incase I needed it (and I did!). Later, teaching helped pay they bills while I was in graduate school and needed to cut down on freelance work. After earning my degree I started running my business full-time but wasn’t making any profit, teaching gave me a steady income as well as benefits like health insurance that I qualified for after teaching 60 credits worth of classes.  

2. Professional Growth. When I first started teaching I felt like an imposter. I was still a junior level designer with minimal experience managing others, no experience in art direction and clueless about how to be a teacher. But I knew more than my students did about design and software and that was enough to start with. Over the years I gained confidence in my abilities as a teacher, learning from my mistakes and constantly experimenting in the classroom. I got better at giving feedback on assignments that were both critical yet encouraging. I learned how to work with student’s frustrations or combativeness. And I learned an incredible amount of patience and understanding.  

I never realized how much the skills I gained as a teacher positively impacted other areas of my professional life until I took on an intern in my business and needed to train and manage her. Later, when at my recent full-time job I noticed the positive effects in my decision making, presentation style, and ability to art direct illustrators and photographers. Most important, teaching helped me better understand how to navigate and understand the many personalities encountered in the office and to be patient.

3. The Reward. Over the last ten years I’ve had the opportunity to watch a number of my former students flourish in their careers, many as designers. For some I played a larger role than others. That doesn’t matter. Knowing that I passed on knowledge, enthusiasm, and hopefully some encouragement to aspiring minds is enough to add plenty of value to my own life. I’ve never experienced that level of impact on someone else's life at another job. And that’s a very special privilege I don’t take lightly.

So if you’ve ever considered teaching whether it be in a formal classroom, as a tutor, leading a workshop, or in an online space, the benefits really out way any of the fears you might initially have. It may take a while to find your confidence, but eventually you will. So get out there and share your knowledge and passion with the world and start making an impact!  

Like what you've read? For the next few months I'm changing my posting day from Wednesday to Thursday to accommodate my teaching schedule. Hope to see you here again next Thursday for a new post on creative living!