"Teachers" Learn Too

March 16, 2021 by Saša Jazbec

Thinking about it, I have a long history of teaching. I started off by being an instructor of English at the age of 16, went on as an aerobics teacher in high school and an assistant instructor of statistics and national economy while being a student. I was habilitated as an assistant teacher of international finance at the Faculty of Economics when I got the first job at the Ljubljana Stock Exchange and then, during my career at the central bank and ministry of finance, there was always some audience that wanted to hear from me :-)

I have always taken the teaching role very seriously. I prepared the outline, the slides and other materials, the animation and studied the literature thoroughly. Over and over. I tried to imagine what kind of questions the audience would ask, looked for illustrative cases and prepared real life examples. I usually enjoyed the topic that I was going to present and wanted the audience to share my enthusiasm. I even tried to persuade them how interesting asset swaps or fiscal frameworks were in fact.

The most thrilling part of being a teacher is getting feedback from the audience, after you have managed to attract their attention and persuaded them to think along or, even better, think outside the box. No matter how long you have been teaching or how deep you know a certain topic, there will always be a different point of view or an intriguing question that will make you think again, that will shed some new light on the matter, that will make you understand even better. A special treat in this sense was grading the exams because by seeing repetitive mistakes the teacher realizes the common/conceptual misunderstanding and is able to explain better whatever aspects necessary. The same goes for reviewing the assignments of all kinds. By getting someone's handout – text, scheme, survey results – you inevitably get access to their way of thinking and understanding. This is virtually learning from mistakes. 

In countless discussions and »lectures« on the role of budget directors in budget preparation and fiscal consolidation processes that I have witnessed, it would not be fair to say there were »teachers« and »students« – we were all participants. We were comparing budgeting practices. The most freeing message was that oftentimes in the budgeting process there are no right or wrong answers, just better and worse ways. The important point is how to make people believe your good ideas and how to gain the support of various stakeholders. 

My favorite »diagnosis« was that budget people need to accept the fact that 90% of the budgets are fixed and also that they are selling vegetables to people who want sweets, so it would be utopian to expect they would ever be voted as anyone's favorite pal. Or as one Irish guy put it bluntly: you can't expect a turkey to vote for Christmas. This was an extraordinary exchange of views between budget practitioners and we referred to it as a group therapy. The boundary between teachers and participants was non-existent.

As a CEF expert, I have had the privilege of working closely with experienced people from ministries of finance, line ministries, ERP coordinators, local consultants and other experts of many countries. Despite the terms »faculty« and »participants«, I have considered our discussions, debates and workshops as exchanges of views between peers, comparisons of good practices and sharing of pieces of advice about what works and what doesn't. Being able to witness open discussions and to hear real-life challenges and perspectives of different participants was an additional advantage that helped us all grow. 

During one of the webinars, when we had to move online due to the corona crisis, I admired one of the ladies who was so brilliantly explaining and sharing her experience that one of the translators said, »I don't understand everything that is said here but I am proud that this lady is working in my country, in my government. I feel relieved and safe that we are being cared for by such knowledgeable and experienced people.« Once again we witnessed how open communication, regular collaboration, fair treatment of stakeholders and respect are the key ingredients for success in practically all areas of life, also in the learning process. 

»All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many roles«. I hope Shakespeare will forgive me for adjusting his verse marginally to stress that in one of the many roles we play from the cradle to the grave, we are all teachers. As long as we manage to enrich each other, act in mutually satisfactory ways and produce win-win situations, we are the winners.


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