Its an art

I met with a colleague this afternoon.

She is a first year teacher, but she is a woman with a lifetime of experiences that she can bring to the classroom.

I met this woman many years ago, when her oldest child was one of the students on my speech/language caseload. Her boy was sweet and smart but he faced many academic and emotional challenges.  His Mom was supportive, kind, intelligent and humorous.  I knew back then that she had all of the characteristics of a great teacher.

We met today because she is a brand new teacher in our district, and she is feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the demands of the job.  She is trying to learn the math curriculum, master the science units, teach writing according to the Common Core standards, teach reading in small leveled groups and put together an American History curriculum all at once.

This teacher is dedicated and very smart.  She is determined to do this the right way. She came to ask me about formative and summative assessments, scopes and sequences, rubrics and lesson plans.

Here is what I asked her:

Are your students engaged?    Are they happy?  Do they ask you questions about what they are learning?

Are the children chatting with each other? Do they come to your desk to tell you little stories about their lives?

She said “yes” to all of those questions.

Of course she did!  I know her, so I knew that the answers would be “yes”.

So this is what I told her:

You know that teaching is both an art and a science.  The science is about using a rubric to score the writing.  Its about handing out worksheets and correcting them all. The science of teaching is about using the textbook and giving out reading response journals and grading tests. It’s about managing the homework, keeping track of assignments, giving back corrections.

Anyone can learn the science.  ANYONE.  Its all in a book somewhere.  If you teach long enough, you master the science of teaching.

Ah, but the art.  The art of teaching can’t be taught.  It can be modeled, and offered like a gift. The art of teaching can be observed and described and imitated, but if you don’t have that art inside of you, I fear that it can never be learned.

The art of teaching is this: you have to show the kids that you like them, respect them, enjoy their company, believe in their abilities. And you can only show them those things if they are true, if you really feel them.

That’s it, that all there is.  I told this to my friend, my new teacher colleague.  I told her that children can’t be fooled. If you love them, enjoy being with them, feel comfortable surrounded by them, then everything else simply falls into place.

Great teachers love to teach.

All the rest is just a bunch of details.

It’s an art, I told my friend, Its an art to teach well.  And you have mastered that art already.

Rubrics be damned.  Great teaching comes from the heart.  And you either have it or you don’t.


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