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?

How is teaching like playing golf?

I was watching Tiger and Phil and Bubba duffing it out at the US Open last night at Olympic and I got to thinking that teaching is lot like playing golf.  No, it really is.  You face the tee all alone, the crowd can turn on you at any time and sometimes what looks like a good shot can end up in the rough any way. Then you have to use all your skill and composure to get back on the fairway.

It’s true.  Yes, you do rely on the kindness of colleagues, but when that bell rings and you close the door, it’s show time. You face the daunting task of daily instruction on your own.  Like players on the PGA tour, you refine your game every day, adjusting the pacing, trying out a new stance.  Sometimes it’s all good and you can’t miss. It seems effortless.  Other times, though, it’s nothing but frustration.  No matter what you do, it’s a slice, a hook or a shank. The harder you try, the farther afield you end up.

That’s when you turn to the gadgets.   The accessories promise results.  In golf, if you get the “right” ball or that new titanium club the pros are all using, you really do believe your game might suddenly improve exponentially. The same is true with the bells and whistles in teaching.  Effective instruction has become all about the next new device that will instantly support student success, Smartboards and i Pads promising enticing results. You want to believe that these aids will help your pupils, you really do.  But when it’s “tee time”  (tee standing here for “testing”), it’s about skills not frills. Then it is back to basics: a comfortable grip, smooth swing, and strong follow through. That’s what you need to see your kids through the stress of standardized testing that has become the scorecard of instruction.

And then sometimes it’s about luck.  You get a good roll on an OK shot.  In teaching, sometimes a kid asks the question you needed someone to pose but forgot to embed in the lesson.  But even luck presupposes skills.

In golf, even on your worst day, though, there is always that one hole that keeps you coming back for more.  It’s that tee shot that you somehow land on the green and birdie.  It’s that seemingly impossible maneuver out of the sand trap. And it happens in teaching, too.  It’s the graphic organzier you dream up at the last minute.  It’s the writing assignment that gives every kid a chance to rock. It’s what keeps you rewriting curriculum, finding new hooks, grading papers.

So as I watch the pros in prime time tonight (you gotta love a west coast Open), I’ll be thinking about Monday.  It’s the last week of school and that means the first week of golf.  But I think when you’re a teacher, whatever you do comes back to the classroom in one way or another.