You might be wondering if I’ve taught outside of my expertise. I have­–many, many times. And most days, I muddle along without embarrassment.

But there was one course, about two-and-a-half years ago, that was a nightmare. It was a neuroscience course, which fits my training, but some of the material was completely new to me. So I prepared intensely, learning and researching to fill in the gaps. Each night before class, I stayed up til 1:00 a.m., dog and husband sound asleep while I strived to get my lecture notes and class activities just right.

After five weeks of this grueling ritual, I made a transcription error. I switched two key brain areas in my notes, “inferior colliculus” and “superior colliculus.” (An easy mistake to make at 1:00 a.m., right?)

You can probably guess where this is going. In class the next day, I defined the two areas, pausing because something didn’t seem quite right, but plowing ahead because I trusted my notes more than my memory.

One student—who had no qualms about second-guessing my memory or my notes—immediately raised her hand to quote the exact page in the textbook that contradicted me.

I paused, hoping my notes could help. No such luck.

It can be really hard when you’re teaching something you just learned. As I know now, I could have made it much easier on myself. In this article, we’ll discuss how.

Therese Huston, Seattle University