I noticed that so many field experts in different disciplines (politicians, lawyers) become part-time teachers (next to their full-time job). I'm just wondering, how does (building up) teaching experience actually help them to become more successful?

  • 16
    Some don't care about that, and just love teaching.
    – Buffy
    Mar 14, 2022 at 12:17
  • 4
    What is a "field expert"? Mar 14, 2022 at 21:14
  • 6
    You may have it backwards. Successful and prominent people may be approached and asked to do some teaching. Many decline (and you don't see those, so you already have a biased sample). Others do it because it strokes their ego. It may or may not help them get more successful. Mar 15, 2022 at 15:33
  • @Jochen Glueck: Subject-Matter Expert (SME), a person who is an authority in a particular area or topic. Think of politicians, lawyers, engineers working for many years in their occupation and then decide to go teaching since they have a wealth of experience.
    – Jay
    Mar 15, 2022 at 23:11

6 Answers 6


Every person have different motivations for teaching. Some reasons include

  • Some people enjoy teaching (as noted by Buffy).
  • Intellectually, some people find teaching to be stimulating (e.g., Richard Feynman as described in this link. However, as a counter point, another well known physicist, Robert Oppenheimer realized later in life he did not want to teach, as noted here).
  • Closely related to the above point, teaching material helps people to better understand the material for research or application. Feynman talks about this in one of his books (Sorry, I don't have time to look up which one).
  • Teaching can build credentials and reputation. For example, if somebody adds to their bio "I taught at Prestigious University" this helps them appear to be an expert in the field. Likewise, this is another reason some people write books (e.g. this blog post).
  • For former politicians, teaching helps them connect to a younger generation (e.g., this story). This can also be a resume filler while they figure out if they want to do something else.
  • If the politician or political appointee was controversial, a faculty position may be a way to put some space between themselves and their controversy and re-build their reputation (e.g. do more research on this linked story).
  • For current politicians, they may do so for any of the above reasons. For example Mark Rutte still teaches. The linked article does not include his motivation. (Thanks to MSalters for the link.)
  • Some more reasons, adapted upon a comment from avid
    • Teaching allows people who may have moved into high-level positions to stay in touch with the fundamentals.
    • Teaching provides an opportunity to identify and recruit upcoming talent. Personally, I have encouraged students in my guest lectures to apply for internships I have and I have also seen faculty advertise for grad and postdoc openings during seminars and technical talks (e.g., science meetings).
    • The teacher gets an attractive compensation and support packages. The institutions benefit from being able to advertise big-name faculty. Personally, I have a friend who gets paid ~$10k to teach a week long summer course in his field of study at an Ivy League School and both parties like the agreement because he's done it several years.
  • 2
    It's not just former politicians. Dutch PM Mark Rutte has a side job teaching at a local high school. But it's indeed a good point - I have met quite a few of his colleagues during guest lectures.
    – MSalters
    Mar 15, 2022 at 15:44
  • @MSalters got a link? I'll add in your example to my answer. Mar 15, 2022 at 15:52
  • 1
    Wikipedia has an article, with official government sources. It's pretty well known since Dutch politicians are supposed to list side jobs.
    – MSalters
    Mar 15, 2022 at 16:02
  • 1
    A couple of additions: (i) Most people find that as their career progresses they spend less time 'doing' and more time 'managing'. Teaching may be an opportunity to stay in touch with the fundamentals of a subject. (ii) Teaching provides an opportunity to identify and recruit upcoming talent. (iii) Institutions benefit from being able to advertise big-name 'faculty' and so offer attractive compensation and support packages.
    – avid
    Mar 16, 2022 at 17:05
  • @avid Good points. I've added them in. I also added some of my own details to support your ideas. Thanks for suggesting them. Mar 16, 2022 at 18:03

It's a sad thing to work very hard to gain new knowledge only to find it's impossible to share. Teaching provides feedback. You learn if your explanations work. And sometimes, just sometimes, you learn you didn't know what you thought you knew.


There are other reasons to teach besides gaining skills for an ancillary profession. Nevertheless, I'll take it that this could be a partial motivation for teaching in some cases, so I'll try to answer your question on that basis.

The discipline of teaching a specialist subject generally requires one to have a broad and detailed knowledge of the subject, with good recall of key facts and reasoning for core principles. Forcing yourself into a situation where you are expected to have this knowledge and recall it under questioning is good practice for ancillary work in that field. Most teachers learn more about their own subject in the course of preparing for and teaching that subject --- teaching a specialist subject usually gives rise to at least some issues that you have not previously considered in depth, or it gives rise to questions that you have not previously encountered in your practice of a profession.

In addition to developing better knowledge of a subject, teaching also involves practice in communicating ideas to others and defending those ideas under questioning. This is useful in any profession, but it may be particularly useful in adversarial professions such as politics and law. Teaching involves contemporaneous responses to unpredictable questions, which is a particularly useful skill in adversarial professions that require the ability to put forward an eloquent argument for a position under time pressure.


Deeper knowledge of a subject:

I learned a heck of a lot more about differential equations by teaching the courses than I ever did by taking them. I expect that in other disciplines this is similar.

Better technical communication skill:

Most (almost all?) professions benefit from more skilled communication. Teaching helps build these technical communication skills. On my project, team work is so important that an engineer with good technical communication skills is often more successful than better technically qualified engineers with poor communication skills. In fact, one could argue that good communications skills are so essential for success they are a job requirement.

Enjoyment and passion for a subject:

A lot of us teach by answering questions in our fields of expertise on the Stack Exchange sites with no compensation. I've learned a lot of Astronomy by answering questions on that site, but that learning is a tangential benefit. I mostly just like answering questions!


If you plan to teach something, it's not enough for you to just have an understanding of the discipline. You must have an in-depth knowledge to teach, and while you do it, you continue improving your mastery and background knowledge. Teaching also requires the individual to continue self-development. I think the answer is quite obvious.


It is not until we try to relay our own learning to others, so to teach, that we get to fully explore how to articulate our opinions and to truly appreciate the opinions of others.

It is generally accepted that you have not mastered a martial art, until you have instructed someone else to mastery status. (technically by that definition no one can ever be a master) This same concept applies to all fields, if you only have a vague level of understanding it may be enough for you to bungle through your day to day tasks, but if you are not challenged in the field to do something else, you will not know if you can meet that challenge until it presents itself.

To instruct others is to open yourself to their criticisms and be challenged before you may need to in the field. You must formulate your arguments or instructions in ways that others can understand them, it is not enough to state facts, or recite doctrine, for many students you will have to find different ways to explain phenomena and theory. Through the journey you yourself will be challenged and forced to view the same material from different perspectives, gaining a much deeper understanding in the process.

Having teaching experience will not necessarily make you a master or successful in your field, but if you are a master of your field and have the ability to be able to teach others, then you can more easily become successful as you will increase the understanding of the team around you. With a team of people that you can effectively communicate with and can relay instructions and ideas, then together you can achieve great things, these great things will become the external measure of your success.

You however, should judge your success based on the success of those who you have taught and inspired.

I couldn't find a specific article to cite, but the Four Stages of Learning is pretty close to what I was looking for, teaching being the fifth stage

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