The love of learning

By Caitlin Kelly

Victoria College, University of Toronto, my alma mater
Victoria College, University of Toronto, my alma mater

I attended two schools of higher education, as different from one another — as the British say — as chalk and cheese.

I did four years of undergraduate work at the University of Toronto, Canada’s toughest university. Our professors were world-class scholars, some of them terrifying in their capes and bow ties, quoting in Latin or German or Greek.

We didn’t dare speak to them outside of class, and rarely during class. They had little idea who most of us were — lost in a sea of 53,000 students across a downtown campus so large it took me 20 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

I later attended the New York School of Interior Design, where I also now teach occasionally, and found a totally different experience: warm, welcoming, demanding but supportive. I love its bright red door on the north side of East 70th., ducking into Neil’s Diner down the street for a coffee before or after class.

Our classes were small, our teachers consistently insisting on our excellence. I loved it all. OK, except for drafting.

I decided not to switch careers, but don’t regret a minute of the thousands of dollars I spent there. I loved my classes and have developed a strong and solid alternate skill set.

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
I’m happiest as an experiential learner — which is why journalism is such a good fit for me. Here, on assignment in Nicaragua, for WaterAid

Learning can be fun, exhilarating, inspiring.

And exhausting.

So, too, can teaching.

Not because simply transferring skills and knowledge is pedagogically complex. People learn at different speeds, with different levels and styles of intelligence, aptitude or interest.

Did you see this extraordinary recent story about an American professor who failed his entire class?

After 20 years in the classroom, he lost it.

malled cover HIGH

Last Saturday I attended and spoke at a writers’ one-day conference in Bethesda, Maryland; I was on the day’s final panel about how to turn a print career into a book.

I’ve been writing for a living for decades — why bother listening to all the others?

What’s left to learn?

Lots. If you’re open to it.

I sat beside legendary biographer Kitty Kelley at lunch and heard delicious out-takes from her book about Frank Sinatra as we ate our sandwiches.

I heard a law professor describe her solution to the exact problem I’d just faced in my own classroom and asked her if she’d advise me more in future.

I heard one biographer describe how much — after years of work — she decided she loathed her subject, Harold Ickes — and gave all her materials to another writer. What generosity!


This week I’ll teach my two college classes, as usual, on Thursday.

Then, all day Friday and Saturday, I’ll sit in stuffy hotel meeting rooms for the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ annual conference in New York City, and learn as much as I possibly can — about new markets, about how to do social media better, about how to improve my thinking and writing.

I’ll meet old friends from across the country, and make some new ones.

Learning is something we do, ideally, until the day we die.

How about you?

Do you love learning (or teaching)?

31 thoughts on “The love of learning

  1. I do love learning. This last semester has been a blast. I’m a little sad to be leaving, but I feel that I’ve been here long enough. It’s time to move on, to fin the next step, whatever that is. Hopefully it’ll be a job that pays well!

  2. Fatima

    I love learning. I have an undergrad in teaching, and people ask, “Why did you take it if you don’t teach?” I did try, but I enjoy libraries, and worked in bookstores, therefore classrooms didn’t ‘fit’ me. I fear what’s going on as people look at learning like a luxury not a necessity. People do use their degrees just not not in ways we think.

    1. So true.

      I’m glad I discovered how much I loved my design training — but I also learned I that I didn’t necessarily want to work in that world as a designer. I suspect much of education is learning what isn’t a great fit as what is.

  3. Kudos to you for keeping education alive in your life and the lives of countless others. I’m a lifelong learner and I’m excited to be able to give back a bit by offering a writing workshop as a fundraiser for my local library. I miss teaching so much and this will get me back into that role, if just for a little while.

    I think that you can learn something of value in any situation from anyone, as long as you are open to it. Formal education is only part of our overall education.

  4. Sure, I love learning. Sometimes it’s not a choice. When I arrived in Paris two decades ago, I had only rudimentary knowledge of French. Going on job interviews, apartment-hunting, buying food at the market and making my way around the city (alone and knowing no-one) forced me to learn French fast. Now I’m learning Italian. I think my greatest personal satisfaction, though, was when I worked in a large international law firm a few years ago. No-one had time to give me a 2-day training session for a software program called Elite which I was to use for billing. Elite is a highly complex software package for Accountants (not one of my better skills) and I had to learn it all by myself…in French. It was hard, but in the end I mastered it.

    I noticed, when you were in Paris in January, that your French is very good. Do you speak any other foreign languages?


  5. JET31

    It was my love of learning that lead to my teaching four college courses this year. It has been the most intense learning experience I have had, (other than undergrad at McGill, of course!) How do you deal with the students who are more challenging than others? There is one particular student in my class who always seems to be looking for a battle. Teacher to teacher – have you experienced anything like this? I cannot tell if he is interested in learning or not.

  6. I am writing a biography on my father and I have found that in writing about him I have had to research other people, I have had to research cities other than my own, other cultures…I love it! I love learning. And sharing what I have learned with others, in my case, in book form.

  7. β€œAnyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” – Henry Ford

    Thank you Caitlin, for yet another great article!

    As a fellow freelance writer, It’s the inspiring to see the way you write so well on lots of different topics.

    I definitely love learning too – and actually, I’m very grateful for that! πŸ™‚

  8. I love both passionately. Before I moved to Germany, I taught at a language school in Dublin. It was an immensely rewarding experience; I learnt at least as much from my pupils as they did from me. I’m fascianted by how individuals learn so for me, one-to-one classes were the most rewarding. As a teacher, I saw it as a challenge and responsibilty to figure out how to present information in a unique and engaging way. Although I very much enjoy post-college life, I sometimes crave a full-time learning environment offered by university. That said, I’ve “learnt” at least as much, if not, more outside of “learning institutions.”

    1. It’s really challenging to figure out how to best engage each student — especially if a class is very small (as mine are this semester) — and if there is a wide disparity in skill or interest. I also have learned a lot from my students. I was delighted when one told me our class had given her a breakthrough in her writing. It helps to know one has been useful. πŸ™‚

  9. I don’t think I can teach to save my life, but I do love learning. Hated school all the way until I hit university, and then thought “omg, so this is what it means to actually *like* school.” That being said, when I finished my degree, I was extremely glad to be done with school.

    Lately I’ve been thinking I’d love to go back to university again, but the cost would be prohibitive. Ah well. Viva la the university of life!

      1. That is exactly what I was thinking too πŸ™‚ Especially after news that German universities are abolishing fees again. It’s certainly given me pause to seriously consider the possibility of going back to school.

  10. I have to admit that on Monday mornings when my inbox is full of the blogs I subscribe to I have to discern which ones to read in the blink of an eye (or I’d never make it to the yoga class I teach!). So I very nearly passed on this one, Caitlin. I’m really happy I had a change of heart. You have a way of speaking to the heart of the matter which in this instance – for me at least – is deciding whether or not to enroll in a few online courses to brush up my skill set. Thank you for supporting my vision of who I am and who I want to be simply by sharing the story of who you are and who you want to be.

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