Mastery: Teaching More than Tasks

There’s a soft benefit to the apprentice/Master relationship that I think a lot of people miss out on.

Let’s start by looking at the “soft” side of the traditional classroom experience. Setting aside after-class social time, which is obviously one of the things that comes along with college, class time confers very few benefits beyond what the class alleges to teach. You just kind of sit there and absorb, right? Or, best case, you have some really engaging discussions. Okay, maybe a GREAT class makes you a better person in discussions, or a better person for debates or critical analysis — cool.

Contrast that with a true apprenticeship, which is simply where an experienced person works alongside a less experienced person on some actual tasks. Yes, the apprentice learns to complete those tasks — but they learn SO MUCH MORE.

They learn about cooperation. They learn to work WITH someone. Done well, they learn a lot about the give-and-take and back-and-forth that collaborative work relationships require. They also learn how to work in whatever environment they’re in — how to joke with colleagues, how the ebb and flow of conversation works, and more. True apprenticeships make people so much more confident and self-reliant, you honestly might not believe it unless you’ve been through it.

I’ll return to harping on my own apprenticeship: I started as a very shy 17 year-old who was sensitive to teasing, wasn’t very outgoing, and didn’t quickly volunteer to speak up or make friends. I was dumped onto a shop floor with mostly Navy veterans. I can assure you, they weren’t a shy bunch. I got teased a LOT — but it increased the longer I was there, as they felt me getting more comfortable. I learned to tease back. I learned to speak up. I got into an argument with a senior mechanic over a tail light installation I felt he’d bungled, with the end result being him redoing the work and apologizing to me. That’s a HUGE life skill, and I’d never have learned it all just sitting in a class. Sure, a lot of my issues had to do with my age, but I see similar results in people who apprentice much later in their lives, too.

Today? Well, I strongly feel that without those “soft” experiences as an apprentice, I’d never have become the public speaker I am today. The mechanics I worked under were the first to encourage me to quit that job and “get into computers,” advice I eventually took and never looked back from. They saw something in me that I didn’t see, and helped me start to build the confidence to go after it. I’d never have had that in a classroom, because that’s not the point of a classroom.

When you’re sharing your knowledge with someone in this way, you’re also sharing your broader life experiences. The side conversations that naturally occur when you’re WORKING ALONGSIDE someone are half or more of the value of the apprentice/Master relationship. And again, this isn’t just at your workplace — simply working alongside anyone, in any kind of task, offers the opportunities to share life experiences with each other, get to know one another, and broaden both of your perspectives.