Teaching What You Know

Sharon January 20th, 2009

In Medical School, the rule of training is pretty simple.  Watch one.  Do one.  Teach one.  While this is probably something of an exaggeration when describing mastering the more intricate brain surgeries, it gets down to the fact that becoming an expert at even quite difficult things is really often a matter of simply getting down and doing it.

I think this model is probably a pretty good one for getting food storage and preservation out on the public table - ok, you’ve read me.  Maybe you’ve tried your hand at building a reserve, at canning, at making cheese or storing root vegetables.  Guess what?  There’s still another step.  Time to start teaching.

Now the simplest way to begin teaching is the person to person model - “Ok, I’m still new at it myself, but hey, I’ll teach you to make sauerkraut.”  When your friends and neighbors want to know about your new skills, you can offer to share them.  You don’t have to have mastered every intricacy, you don’t have to have it perfect.  All you have to do is know a little more than the person who is asking. 

But there’s more.  My goal is by the end of the class to put up a large number of printable handouts that can be used when you teach your own food storage and preservation classes.  Because the leadership your community needs may be yours - again, you don’t have to know everything, just enough to offer something - perhaps to help people get started with beginner food security or to introduce the concept of preserving your own to local food eaters who want to continue going through the cold or dry seasons.

The handouts will be set up and linked too later on, but I think it is important to realize that all of what we’re learning - not least me - can and should be transmitted to others on the “Read one.  Try one.  Teach one” model.  We can’t wait until each of us perfected our experience, and feels ready to teach. 


29 Responses to “Teaching What You Know”

  1. Jenn says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, and how I should really get on top of things and at least start trying these things myself so that I can teach them to others. I think you make a great point about the teaching, though - apparently we retain something like 90% of what we teach, so it’s an excellent way to build other people’s knowledge as well as our own at the same time.

  2. Shamba says:

    I think this fits right in with what our new President said in his inaugural sppech today about all of us taking some responsibility and doing things in our communities.

    Good thinking, Teach!

    Peace to us all and clarity so that we know our role in this life,

  3. DiElla says:

    About a week ago I talked my Son into making his chili starting from dry beans. He had never done it this way. After several phone calls to his Mom (that would be me), his chili turned out great and he felt like he had accomplished something good and useful. Sunday night when he was over for dinner we were talking about baking bread, something that I started doing about a year ago. Next week he is coming over for a lesson in bread baking. He wants to do a potato bread and although I have never done this specific kind of bread I think I have enough experience making bread that we can do this. I’m so glad he wants to learn these basics and who knows maybe next time I have a cooking lesson we’ll have a big group.

  4. Abbie says:

    Sharon- I absolutely love this post. I am currently on the environmental path now because 4 years ago I said, “Hey, I’ll teach environmental science!”

    I’m currently thinking about including a unit on local food in my advanced botany class. Most of those kids took env. sci. with me last year, and I know it will just be the perfect integration of the two. Maybe I’ll even include some food preservation stuff, too! I look forward to your handouts :)

  5. Vicky in VA says:

    I’m so happy about this post! This is because today I was just named ‘Education Director’ for our new food coop. Now, this isn’t really very grand at all BUT now I am commited to teaching what I have learned. And since I probably don’t know THAT much more than my audience, I figure I just might learn some more stuff too.
    The handouts will be a wonderful resource.
    Vicky in VA

  6. curiousalexa says:

    My first thought was “Ack! People!”

    My second thought was acceptance.

    I had already made the decision that this year is focused on learning and sharing. I guess this means next year will be learning by teaching!

  7. Peak Oil Hausfrau says:

    Sharon, if you are interested I have a little handout I put together on the sun oven. I’d be happy to send it to you.

  8. Laurie in MN says:

    The beautiful thing about teaching is that you never learn a subject so well as when you have to explain it to someone else. If you get stymied by a question, there’s no shame in saying “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out and get back to you” as long as you DO IT! :)

    I teach Middle Eastern Dance, and my students still stump me sometimes because I’ve been doing a move so long that I never really think about HOW I do it any more. Teaching makes you *think*, and sometimes makes you think about things in a totally different way than you are used to.

    End soapbox. Yes, I enjoy teaching, and respect good teachers! :) I’m not sure I’m ready to become one in THIS subject yet, because I’m still learning so much. But it can’t hurt to try the informal stuff, like casually mentioning that I’m going to try some canning this year. I can always blame it on my DH’s dietary needs! ;)

  9. AnnaMarie says:

    I’m starting to think that food storage lessons are going to need to start with cooking and nutrition lessons. I’ve seen some amazing, not in a good way to me, pantry shots lately and I know it’s store what you eat and eat what you store but honestly, I couldn’t eat all that processed food at all.

    It’s scary what they call food these days.

  10. ctdaffodil says:

    I’ve often wondered why WIC and food stamp programs don’t teach some of the basics about eating more whole foods rather than packaged/prepped foods. Talk about bang for the buck….

  11. Rebecca says:

    Good post sharon.

    ctdaffodil, it’s because most of the people on these programs don’t have the time/space/etc to cook.

  12. EJ says:

    I’ll proofread/edit these if others write and design. It would be great to have a good looking, coherent series to refer to.

  13. Greenpa says:

    In the words of someone we know: 2 Warnings!

    While there’s no question in my mind that teaching something is the best way to truly learn it- the metaphor from Medical School is not entirely accurate here-

    They may indeed “watch one, do one, teach one.” - BUT - a critical factor is that when you are “doing” and “teaching” - you are also very closely supervised by a senior teacher. They don’t LET you make mistakes in your doing, or teaching.

    One of the things that has ticked me off about “the back to the land” movement, and now the “green” movement- is the incredible abundance of people willing to “teach”- what they do NOT know. Leading to what I sometimes call “green imanure”, for “information manure”.

    In the early days, The Mother Earth News was one of the big offenders here; they printed wildly enthusiastic articles like “You can build your own back-yard breeder reactor! We did!” (that’s a little hyperbole; but you get the idea.)

    One of my favorite REAL examples was an article on “You can do your own land surveying! We did!” - and they made their own surveying chain! Out of… old coathangers. ay, yi yi. Just astonishing amounts of room for future lawsuits there.

    Also typical: “how to raise goats!” - from someone who just bought their first goat.

    Sorry; but without senior advisors watching you, please don’t go around teaching something you just learned. Let it age a little while; be sure what you’re saying will hold up under other circumstances.

    Bad information is dangerous.

    Teaching and passing on good information IS critically important. But the fact that you have done it once; or twice; is not quite enough experience to make you ready to teach it; in my book.

    I guess my test would be this- are you COMFORTABLE with teaching this information? If you aren’t- that may be a perfectly good indication you’re not quite ready to teach it. If you ARE comfortable with passing it on- that may be the best test we’ll come up with. Then- do it!

  14. MEA says:

    I’d think it would depend on what you are teaching. Little real damage (barring a freak) is going to come from teaching someone how to sew on a button, even if your grandmother taught you that morning.

    Beyond that, as a nurse I know once told me about the training of new doctors — See one, do one, kill one.

  15. Greenpa says:

    MEA- what! Buttons are incredibly dangerous! Just think of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”!

    Ok, I’m kidding, of course. Sure; common sense is great here.

    I do think it’s worth while keeping BOTH versions of the med school rubric in min

  16. MEA says:

    Greenpa — if someone could be killed by a flying button it would be me.

    A couple of years ago, I got lost while driving (common occurance, I fear). It was raining, I had to go though a toll, where I was told that I need to cut across several lanes of traffic to get to an exit that seemed to be about 10 yards from where I was, or drive about 10 more miles for a chance to turn around. I was already late, so I felt it was to or die. (Yeah, I know, better to be late than the late MEA.) I’m so verically challanged that I have to get out of the car at the toll both to hand up the money, and as I was getting back in, people started honking behind me.

    Well, trying to get the window up (it was chucking in rain), and get my seat belt on, and, and changing gears, and turning the turn signal on and change lanes that some how I impaled my right hand on the very think (thankfully) double pointed knitting needle stick out of the sock I was knitting and have shoved in the cup holder (if you don’t drink coffee in the the car, you have to do something with it.) It went in about 3/4 of and of and inch and hung there, so I was driving along frantically trying to get over to the right, with a 1/2 finished sock dangling from my hand and a laughing so hard I thought I was going to wet myself.

    When I got back to work and explained why I was late, my co-workers stared calling me Mrs. Bean.

    So, if you knit, keep that tetnus up to date.

  17. Emily says:

    I’m starting a group called Preserving Traditions at our local Grange hall. Basically it’s a group dedicated to teaching/learning how to cook and preserve local foods. It’s likely there will be a buying club aspect to it, too - cowpooling, buying flour in 100-lb sacks, etc. Hopefully adding business for local farmers, not just partaking of what’s already there. We’re seeking participants through local blogging circles, Slow Food, the Grange, and in the spring, at the Farmers’ Market. If you’re interested, see http://preservingtraditions.wordpress.com/ . I’m happy to talk with anyone who’s interested in starting a similar group in their area.

  18. Laurie in MN says:

    Ohhhhhhh, MEA. That sounds like something *I’d* do.

    Note to self: keep the sock knitting out of the coffee cup holder. Once I get to socks, that is! ;)

  19. Evelyn says:

    ctdaffodil, WIC teach you about nutricion and they prefer if you give your child good food. At least it was like that when I took their course 4 years ago when I took WIC for my child. It is not true that people that get gov. assitant do not have time or space to cook. A lot of them cook because the Gov. cheeck is never enought to feed everybody.

  20. Greenpa says:

    MEA- hilarious story! And the fact that you were laughing at yourself, at the time- makes me want to share a cup of hot coco with you, someday. :-)

  21. MEA says:

    Since my whole life runs along those lines, and I spend a lot of my time laughing at myself, do you think you could run to whipped cream on top? If you, and Spice and Smidgen are in NJ, let me know.

  22. Erika says:

    I was in the Navy, and this was the teaching model used in my job (a hospital corpsman - something like a hybrid of a nurse and paramedic… or something in between). The best thing about see one, do one, teach one was that, basically, you were forced to do one. I know that seems crazy, but when you’re shown how to, say, sew up a cut, and then are asked a day or so later (or ten minutes) to repeat what you watched, it’s very intimidating, but you can trust that your teacher will be there to guide you, and that you’re free to ask for help! After I became accustomed to the role of teacher, I felt even more protective over my student than our patient - not that I wasn’t protective of my patient, but I just wanted to make sure that my student had a successful experience.

    Hoo Rah, see one, do one, teach one!


  23. Jill says:

    I’m doing this too! I’ve agreed to teach beginning gardening/food preservation/cooking with homegrown foods to a new 4-H club that a friend started (first official meeting is today), and I’ll offer the same classes (for free) to a couple of homeschool coops we belong to. (There has been great interest, as this is SE Michigan, one of the epicenters of the current economic troubles, and many people I know are starting to fear hunger). If those go well, I’m planning to offer the same to the general public. I’m going to offer them free to all, with the expectation that the new gardeners will have extra tomatoes and zucchini, at the very least, to share with others. We may have a lousy, automotive-dependent economy, but Michigan has most excellent soil and weather for growing fruits and veg.

    I agree with Greenpa, that this is not something to undertake lightly, as growing food does actually require some experience-otherwise, it could be very discouraging. But I think even a novice gardener could gather together a neighbor or two, and suggest a “let’s learn-together-as-we-go project.”


  24. Pat Meadows says:


    I would not be willing to teach someone to can (bottle) food, because I do not have a great deal of experience with it. That’s an area where you *must* get it right, or risk botulism.

    I’d make canning an exception to the ‘See One, Do One, Teach One’ rule of thumb.

    I realize it’s a fairly large exception in the context of a Food Storage Class.


  25. Becky says:

    What a coincidence! I read your post yesterday. Just came home after teaching a neighbor how to make yeast bread sticks and also to show off my sun oven.
    This was in *exchange* for helping me to build a rocket stove out of a medium sized metal trash can.

    Oh, and I want to add to the “watch one, do one, and teach one” - the triple enjoyment in it all! What a deal.

  26. Sharon says:

    Pat, it really depends on what you are doing and in what context you are teaching. Teaching people to can high acid food really doesn’t risk botulism unless you are imaginatively stupid about it ;-) . You can teach your neighbor to can vinegar pickles without ever worrying about killing anyone.

    Waterbath canning is a little closer to brain surgery - but again, it depends on what you teach “do what I do, don’t do any other research” would be bad, because you might not get it right. “Let’s both get together and can this chicken, with the help of my handy-dandy Ball Blue Book” - I don’t think any extra person will do any harm and might do some good.

    It really depends on how you approach it.


  27. wasteweardaily says:

    Sharon, I’m guessing you meant “Pressure canning is closer to brain surgery”.
    Well I have already taken your advice and I taught a small group of people about food storage. A friend arranged it with her friends and neighbors. It was mostly an introduction to why and how to get started. I made some handouts and referred everyone to this blog as well as several other internet sites. Along with the handouts, I brought my vacuum sealer, a bag of sealed rice, a bucket with a gamma seal lid, a Lehman’s catalog and an Emergency Essentials catalog. It was a great discussion and I got paid $30.
    I have been planning on offering a class on hot water bath canning jam as an auction item at my church’s annual fundraiser. I would have maybe 10 people all pay $10-$15 each as a donation to the church and they would get the class and one jar of jam. I would also have to provide the ingredients and the jars as part of my donation.
    Cindy in FL

  28. Dwig says:

    Thought I’d add a related thought that came to me a while back:

    You know the old saw: “if you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day; if you teach them to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.” OK, what if you teach them to teach fishing? Exponential growth, anyone?

  29. Jena says:

    I have been putting off reading this post because I have felt a big push (since fall) to offer a basic canning class in my area. It struck me that a local church, the area’s food pantry drop off point, has a huge pear tree in their yard and almost all of the fruit rotted last year. Tons of people have canning jars in their basement so if they would donate some I could teach local people, especially those in need, how to can. At this point I would be comfortable dealing with only the high-acid foods. I am afraid of someone asking me a question I can’t answer but I like the suggestion someone gave above about telling them you’ll find out!

    Jill - BTW, I’m in Michigan too and would love to talk with you more about what you’re doing. It might be helpful to bounce ideas/plans off each other! :)

    Thanks Sharon, this may be the extra nudge I needed.

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