" I realized that there is SO MUCH STUFF... in teaching... there is so much to do, to remember, and I realized that I couldn't do it all. I found myself cutting back and learning everything separately."
She was truly exuberant. I was happy for her, I wasn't sure that she would make it.
"Can you give me an example- a cutting back and learn everything separately example?" I questioned.
"I wanted to be the best teacher in the school from day one, and put everything into practice that I learned from school and student teaching. I quickly found that to be impossible."
Ms. Sims reached into her bag and pulled out her plan book.
"So I began to realize that teaching is a bunch of skills... and the skills can't be learned and implemented together, that my best bet was to identify what I wanted to be good at and then practice each one of those things separately rather than trying, and failing, to do everything at once."
"That is an interesting point of view..." I said.
"Yeah, and it helped I think. So as an example..." she pointed to a green block in her planning book... "...during this week, I practiced strong class openings, like, confident, bold, and direct introductions. And the following week I practiced strong class closures. So by the end of the two weeks, I was OK at opening and closing class."
"That's fantastic!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah it helped, I actually got the idea from a book-- How To Read A Book-- there is a passage where it talks about all the skills needed to read a book and how, when practiced and learned separately, eventually fuse together."
"How To Read A Book? That is the title of a book?" I gave her a puzzled look.
"Yup, and it's fantastic!"
Book recommendations come from the weirdest places :)
But Ms. Sims was right about two things: first, How To Read A Book is absolutely amazing. Second, to learn a complex skill, like teaching, prioritizing the many smaller skills and learning them individually is an efficient way at learning the complex skill.
The passage from How To Read A Book helps:
Referring to a mastering a complex act (skill) as a series of smaller acts (skills ) "you must learn to forget the separate acts in order to perform all of them, and indeed, any of them, well. But in order to forget them as separate acts, you have to learn them first as separate acts." (Italics found in the original)
To master a skill as complex as teaching, first realize that it is a series of smaller skills working in conjunction. Perform and perfect the smaller skills individually. As you become more proficient, you'll notice that the skills flow into and support one another.
Like Ms. Sims, start by listing the skills you feel are important to teaching. Make each skill an actionable behavior. Start small, practice, and prioritize each- start with one week.
I acknowledge that there are hundreds of desirable teaching skills. But there are also 40 weeks in a school year. That means that using the above formula, at the end of the first year teaching, you could have 40 skills practiced and perfected. That is an incredible feat and one that I would argue gets you off to a fantastic start.
Inspiration comes from funny places. During a meeting with my mentee, I walked away as the beneficiary and have personally implemented Ms. Sims' recipe for success. I've already practiced one desirable characteristic- 100% attention while I speak, and plan, next week to start a second- visiting each student at least once during each laboratory activity.
Thank you Ms. Sims :)
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Thanks for reading!