The Importance of Being a Learner

On January 19 of this year, I walked into a room of 21 college film students who were only 3-5 years younger than myself. They looked at me confused as to whether I was a peer or the instructor. I set my bag down, looked at them and wondered the same thing.

As I prepared to teach the class in the prior weeks, I quickly realized I had a choice to make. I could take one of two stances on the day I entered that classroom. My first option: I could be the expert. I could walk in with all the answers, fielding questions and throwing back answers full of fluff and pompous past experiences, humble-bragging my class to sheer boredom. But this route would be easier and safer. It would involve no studying on my part, little class preparation, and no organizational effort.

On the other hand, there was option two: be a learner.

As I sat with my Word document open, a syllabus awaiting formation, I began to visualize what being a learner would entail. It meant instead of gearing the class towards what I was comfortable with teaching, I would instead write the syllabus from my students' vantage point, with the end goal of the class being the accumulation of practical skills for the students that would translate to a job. 

With reluctance, I chose this route. Thankfully, my wife is an elementary education major and helped me structure my daily lessons in an interesting and effective way. As I developed lessons with the intention of getting my students practical experience, I began to see holes in my own knowledge of film, and my learning began. Utilizing articles, other professionals, and online tutorials, I immersed myself in those corners of film that were least familiar to me. Some of these included sound design, color theory, blocking, and many others. I took my class before I ever set foot in the classroom, and I'm a better filmmaker for it today.

On January 19 of this year, I walked into a classroom of college students wondering whether I was more a teacher or a peer. As it turned out, I was both.