3 Things I Do Better Because I Teach

So, I was thinking about how being a teacher has actually helped me strengthen some other essential skills –things that have nothing to do with instruction–and here are three things–in no special order– I do better because I teach.

Playing golf 

Image result for images of golf    Because I teach, I have talked myself out of the all-brawn, no-brains links performance assessment.  I started playing golf when I fell hard for my husband’s driver.  It was big and shiny with a fine titanium shaft that quivered ever so slightly on the backswing.  I loved the resounding ping when the driver and the ball met on the tee.  But, for far too long, my game was all about heft. I was intent on muscling the ball to the green. Some times it worked; most times, it didn’t.   Now that I am a loyal devotee of the Core Curriculum, however, I understand the value of depth over breadth.  I am making friends with the other clubs in my bag. Though I still have a love-hate relationship with the nine iron and though a great tee shot still leaves me breathless, teaching has helped me find honor in the short game.

Interior Design

Being a teacher has also helped me expand my limited decorating know-how.  Other than a youthful, errant fling with a tangerine semi-gloss in the kitchen (I know, but it was the 80s and the Formica countertop was orange), my design palette is populated by timid hues all variations of well, white: antique white, cream, eggshell, coliseum white, winter glaze, full moon. You get the picture.  Teaching has shoved me out of my color comfort zone. When the only roll of paper left was lime green, there was no other choice. Warily, I stapled green panels to the back bulletin board.  Lightening didn’t strike. The sun rose in the East.  I grew a bit bolder and tacked up a geometric border of black, yellow and hot pink.  Still no unnatural disasters.  I applied this new found audacity of color at home and painted my bathroom baby blue.  OK, so the towels, shower curtain and bath mats are all pure white.  But the walls are blue.  Baby steps.

Car Maintenance

A trusted colleague often reminds us of  wisdom acquired from veteran city teachers in the Bronx: “Take care of the little things and there won’t be any big things.” Well who knew this sage adage applies equally to car maintenance?  I used to be of the opinion that when the tranny squealed, a good first line of defense was to crank Springsteen a little louder. OK, a lot louder.  And that works fine for awhile, until you notice the greenish puddle of transmission fluid around your parking space in the mall.  What about that annoying service stabilitrack dashboard light? As McGuiver would know, silver duct tape, of course, until the wheel  locks up as you are about the hit the exit ramp going a tad above the posted 40 MPH speed limit.   Yup, just as “the look” in the general vicinity of  potential classroom disturbance can avert disaster and detention, attending to the little things can prevent that urgent call to AAA towing.

It’s all about those teachable moments, right?

Let Teachers Teach

You wouldn’t want your surgeon’s hands shaking because someone who had never gone to medical school was suddenly redirecting the way she should perform your appendectomy.  You wouldn’t want your pilot repeatedly second guessing himself during turbulence because someone on the ground had a better idea about handling the controls.

Surgery and aviation are precision professions, though, and most laymen are smart enough to know that in addition to training and experience, a healthy degree of self-confidence is required to make an incision or land an aircraft.

So why then are laymen empowered to make teachers’ hands shake and constantly second guess themselves?

In trailers for the film Won’t Back Down, Maggie Gyllenhaal says, “Wanna take over the school?”  Really?  Is it that simple?  Can anybody do this job?  Would she be having this conversation about the operating room or the cockpit? Probably not, but lately, it seems that anyone who can read and loves her kids can do a better job teaching than the people with the training and experience, who, by the way, also happen to love kids.

The longer I teach, the better I get at it.  I studied literature as an undergrad and education in grad school. As a student, I distinguished myself academically in both of these arenas. But it has required years of classroom experience to mold me into the competent and confident teacher I have become.  Years of good–and yes, some not so good–lessons contribute to the daily evolution of my professional persona.    However, like so many of my colleagues across the country,  I am now suddenly plagued by anxiety and self-doubt, neither of which are productive.

It seems no one trusts teachers to do their jobs. Everyone’s an instant critic.  Suddenly, it seems everyone believes wholeheartedly he can teach and teach better than those who have been at it for a while.

So, what do you say, wanna take over the school?

It’s not that I think I have reached an instructional pinnacle. The harsh reality of teaching is that everyday provides indisputable evidence that tomorrow could be, should be a better day. The teachers I know reflect, adjust, research, learn…every single day.

Perfection becomes an elusive possibility, though, when public distrust morphs into an occupation, and the day-to-day elements of instruction are continuously under such siege that teachers devote more time to defensive strategies than to designing engaging lessons to promote intellectual curiosity. Perfection becomes less–not more–likely when so many cooks are stirring the broth simmering with conflicting ingredients, seasoned with distrust and contempt.

Like surgeons and pilots, to do our jobs well, teachers must be confident.  And like patients and passengers, pupils must have faith in the people in charge.

So, I teach; what’s your superpower?