The term “the art of teaching” has become popular lately. A tribute to the fact that we do more than break students into data points and apply remedies for the pieces we find missing. The Craft of our profession sits in nice contrast to the science of pedagogy. That ability to measure growth and learning which has become so overpowering lately.
The hidden irony is that we are praised for the art which is unclear to most.
People tell me all the time how much they appreciate what I do. My dedication to the craft.
They point to all that I have given up to become more than just a practitioner so that my art would make a difference.
But no matter how many time I hear that, more often than not the praise rings a bit hollow.
I believe they mean what they say, but I don’t think they understand the art of what we do.
Art is always difficult to define, but teaching is an ugly art, complex and intangible, at the elementary level, it is full of snot, cafeteria food, zipping other peoples paints, frustration, tears, cheesy smiles, high stakes testing and more artistic skill than normal people could reasonably imagine.
Most adults don’t ever see it. Most kids don’t know its happening. So for me to hear,
“Wow you are so good at your job”
It has all the value of me praising the artistic level of didgeridoo solo.
I appreciate it, but I couldn’t tell you a good one from a bad one.
I may not be able to define the Artistic qualities of pedagogy, but I have seen it.
I know its awesome to watch in a painfully ugly way.
Last year I was working with a teacher to master and hone her craft, in the process I saw an amazing examples of the art of teaching.
Jason was in the first grade last year. Most mornings he came into class after the bell rang because the bus didn’t drop him off with enough time to eat breakfast before class started. Unfortunately Jason was not the kind of kid that could really afford to miss a free meal or any instructional time. We made the decision to let him eat and be late to class. Because hungry and grumpy did not make Jason learn better.
That not art, that’s just common sense.
The phrase “clothes that fit” means something in Jason’s head that it does in yours, there are 3 kids in his house and his mother works a minimum wage job so for Jas, fit means you can get it on and most the buttons work.
Jason doesn’t really do the phrase “quiet as a mouse” either, so he doesn’t sneak into the working room unseen. But the rule is that interrupting other peoples learning is not okay. So teacher moves, and while giving the rest of the class instructions that most of them already know she silently greets Jason with a high five, give the boy a tissue for the snot dancing in and out of his left nostril and escorts him to his desk, and helps him write his words. Seamless and smooth.
That’s nice work, but any veteran knows those tricks that’s not art.
Noticing the cloud hanging over Jason’s head is not art either. Mostly that is a survival skill.
Jason will explode soon. Like tracking a hurricane, the important part is not, knowing one is out there, it is knowing where and when it will hit.
Of course, Jason is not a hurricane; he is a six year old. You could force his hand, push his buttons and he explodes when you’re ready, you call the office and he’s gone for the day.
That not going to happen here. Her art is teaching, not getting rid of problem kids, and sadly, it’s also not to fix them.
So she helps him learn; breaking down sentences into chunks like rap that doesn’t rhyme. Because Jason struggle with fluency, and often sentences make more sense when you break it into small pieces.
But on a trip to the bathroom, he erupts. His zipper broke, and someone else told him so… Jason Comes storming into his classroom.
“I aint doing this sh**” and shoves the papers off his desk. Arms folded, angry tears clouding his eyes.
Every other eye in the room is shifting from Jason to teacher, to Jason.
Teacher glances at the clock and a sigh says it all. Another 10 minutes and we would have been at recess. Still, within that sigh is a core of resolution. She doesn’t miss a beat ‘Boys and girls as soon as you get these three problems done I will let you out for early recess.
No one is focused on Jason now, and three problems is all they had left anyway.
But Jason is still a tempest waiting to blow and has now thrown his chair to the side because no one pay attention to his paper tantrum.
I take the class to recess stopping by the office on the way.
Masterful stroke #2
Teacher starts the conversation,“Dude, you must be mad to talk like that in here.
“What you think!?”
“I think you should crumple up that paper and throw it as hard as you can at the word wall… tell me what word you hit and I will right in on the board.”
The history of the world has rarely seen a paper throw with such high levels of both anger and attempted accuracy.
Help is never too far away from Jason, because as I said, he is neither quiet nor discreet.
The principal walked into the room. “Hey Jas, what’s going on?”
“I ain’t going with you… back off. Jas and Mrs. Princ, have done this a couple times before, he knows the routine.
“Not an option sir, you know that.”
“You touch me and I will jack you up!”
Jason, darts to the right, but that door was blocked by the teacher. So he moves to the left and grabs a fist full of scissors from their rack and threatens us with them.
When no one flinches, he throws a pair hard against the wall, but he was careful to aim away from both of Mrs. Princ and Teacher… He could have hit either one.
Mrs. Princ slowly step toward him looking for a way to not back Jason into a corner, but he dives under the desk and out the door.
Jason knows this routine a little too well…we follow quickly, just a couple steps behind.
Jason runs into Mrs. Princ’s office and waits, still unleashed and storming.
Sometimes, masterstrokes only happen with routines and trust.
Mrs. Princ follows him into her room, closing the door and opening the blind, because he need privacy and she needs witnesses. She was content to let him stand there; all the time thinking “breathe Jason, breathe.”
But as she walked toward her desk Jason ran at her. Slamming his head into her stomach and almost wrapping his arms around her in a bear hug.
Then there was that odd teacher moment when she realized 4 or 5 things at once but and only respond to one:
Her shirt now had snot all over it.
That was a whole lot of force from a 3 foot 50 lbs body.
Jas’s Zipper is broken?
That squeeze lefts an awful lot like a hugging.
She did not solve Jason’s problems, but we did fix the zipper.