Muddling through…

THe skillful teacherIf you have never read The Skillful Teacher by Stephen D Brookfield then, I really feel you should. Admittedly, as an Englishmen in North America I am biased toward his humour, but from the outset it is obvious why his opinion is so sought after. He eloquently describes (as one would expect from an author with 87 degrees in education…maybe a slight exaggeration but he is certainly very educated) how chaotic the world of teaching really is. His first section in chapter one is entitled “Muddling Through as the Honorable Response to Uncertainty” which in itself is enough to provoke thought and a wry smile, as you cast your thoughts to personal experience. He writes of drawing on our “insights and intuitions” in the classroom and how they sometimes serve us well but

sometimes we quickly realize their limitations, for example, when something that worked wonderfully well in class last semester, only serves to provoke anger or confusion in students this time around

which.. ironically, may very well instil the same in the teacher. As you can see from my blog title I have a lighthearted attitude toward a strict or linear classroom. I truly believe that we are ‘just winging it’ to some extent. The day to day life of a teacher is typically “bafflingly chaotic” and as such, very often the only approach is to go with the ‘gut’ (educated of course), we need to be flexible and unassuming. Brookfield uses the analogy of whitewater rafting where

if we are fortunate enough to negotiate crisis successfully we feel a sense of self confident exhilaration. If we capsize our self-confidence is shaken as we are awash in self doubt.

As much as we all enjoy seeing our students receive great test scores or excel in a project, successfully negotiating crisis is one of the main elements that keeps me enthused to teach. I have experienced self doubt on many occasions…the most memorable when a particularly hormonal fourteen year old Girl Guide decided that she was going to launch various pieces of my practical equipment directly at my face before slumping into a mess of hysterical tears…and you truly are “awash with self doubt”, its a horrible feeling. One of the key elements which I took away from chapter one is about being honest. Honest with yourself, and honest with the student. Nobody truly has the answer to every question, but we do teach for a reason, and teach our chosen subjects for a reason. We should always trust our abilities, but also be aware of their limitations. The student can smell a rat from a thousand yards, so attempting to pull the proverbial wool over their eyes is never going to work. The classroom is always full of conflicting opinions, different experiences, varying degrees of understanding and personal circumstance and therefore, is inevitbly unpredictable. Accepting this will quickly create a far more positive learning environment with hopefully far less schizophrenic Girl Guides.

Embrace and encourage differences in opinion, risk, and dilemmas, they are what real life is, find a way to muddle through and enjoy it.

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