Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Waterworld and a good classroom are alike

"I have to be honest. After 17 years of teaching, I can't tell you how to teach. I can't even really describe what is the best way to do something." These are the words I wanted to say to our student teacher (ST) the other day. But I didn't say them. I mean, I kind of said them. But not really.
And of course, we all know what good teaching looks like. We can tell who the "good" teachers are and who the "bad" teachers are can't we? We knew when we were in school. You remember then? "Man, this teacher is bad..." we thought to ourselves. District administrators think they know who is good. They have these neat reports to go on. They have TEST SCORES for crying out loud. Parents surely know. They can see reports and TEST SCORES online and in the paper. Sometimes parents even complain about their kids' teachers to other parents. Surely we all know what good teaching looks and sounds like.
But ST and I were having a conversation and she was asking me what I would do if I were going to teach such and such lesson. And I wanted to tell her that whatever I said would and should make little difference to her. Because I can't tell HER how to teach. Because she is different than I am. She is busy finding a voice and a rhythm in the classroom. I have one. For better or for worse. So when she asks me how I would do something I try to give her some suggestions based on my experience. But they are merely suggestions. And when she asks how she should approach something, I usually say "However you want. Do whatever you want." And then she looks at me like she wants to kill me. I get it. I get that a lot.
So I was thinking about it just a little bit ago, trying to come up with some words of wisdom for ST. And that's when it hit me. Kevin Costner.
And it began to make sense. It's scary sometimes the way my brain works.
You remember that movie that Costner made back in the nineties called Waterworld? Well, Waterworld and a good classroom lesson have a lot in common. And I can sum it up in one word. Fluidity.
You see, there was a lot of water in that movie. It was a fluid environment. Always changing.
And a good classroom lesson? Led by a good teacher? That also has fluidity.
I've seen a lot of teachers over the years. Those teachers used a variety of methods in a variety of lessons. And the best teachers and the best lessons flowed. There was learning going on and the students were often caught up in the moment. Learning sometimes in spite of themselves. The lesson wasn't forced. It was fluid. Constantly changing but with some kind of internal rhythm.
So I can't really tell ST how to teach. I can only describe what it feels like when you see it done. I can't say "this will work for you." Everyone has a different style and good teachers have figured their style out. They know when to shift gears. They know when to apply pressure. They know when to coast for a bit. And good teachers also know when to abandon ship and try something else.
ST is doing a great job and I try to tell her and I try to help her when she needs help. But she has to figure out the fluidity of the lessons on her own. What works for me probably wouldn't work for her. So tomorrow I'm going to start calling her KC and she will continue to look at me like I'm crazy. But again, I'm used to that.

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