Guest Blogger: Nick Rubinfier
Something that every teacher must face at some point is the inevitable interpretation that his or her job is one that is not really a highly qualified profession. We have all heard the saying “those who can’t do, teach” and realize that there is a belief out there that teachers become educators because they couldn’t find success in some more “real” field. And even when the person outside the field looks in and accepts that the job is one “I could never do,” it is often quickly followed with, “I just don’t have the patience for kids.” Again, the implication being that the hard part of being a teacher is having patience, not skill.
When I read The Art of Learning I found myself understanding how wrong it is to look at teaching as anything other than a highly skilled profession. I suppose those who ‘can’t do’ can become teachers, but they won’t be anything but really bad teachers. When reading in The Art of Learning Josh’s description of professional athletes and champion chess players (and in my mind I added doctors and commercial jet pilots whose skills can mean the difference between life and death), I could see how the skills I have run absolutely parallel.
In the educator-as-artist role I need to constantly fine-tune the lessons I teach and must adjust for the unique needs of all the students looking to me to lead them to the knowledge they are seeking. To truly teach well I must be absolutely present. Like Josh “seeing” moves ahead or like Capt. Sullenberger landing a plane safely in the Hudson, I am constantly slowing down time to bring to each and every student that which they need at that moment to make the discoveries which will empower them. I see that when I am at the top of my form I am that extremely skilled professional, and though no one will live to die in my classroom, the life of learning of my students can weigh precariously in my hands. It would seem impossible that I reach 30 students at a time, differentiating the lesson to suit their complex and individual needs while engaging them, making it fun, and allowing them to take ownership of the learning. And yet, that is exactly what I do.
What I have found in Josh’s analysis of his story and the process of reaching a higher level of performance is a way to look at my life as an educator not as a job of manual labor but as an art form that requires going deep—a professional job that in Josh’s words requires being present, slowing down time, making use of adversity, finding a zone, and putting it all together.
My copy of The Art of Learning is well worn. I go back to it time and again, not just to remind me that my job is an art form and a serious profession, but to help me continue to grow as a learner and a facilitator of learning. Books like this are a gift for they tell you a story that gives you a new perspective about how we live and show you ways to understand your own story and to tell it to the world by living it better.