I’m writing this on the afternoon of my first day back to teaching after a nice winter break. And merely one day back into the thick of it, my body is telling me that, indeed, teaching is work.
This isn’t my first goat rodeo, though. As the week matures, I know I’ll re-acclimate to the pace, to the thousands of daily interactions with hundreds of people (I’m an introvert — that’s a lot of interacting), to the thousands of decisions a teacher’s day requires, to building relationships with kids and colleagues, to the paperwork, to the frustration of desiring so much for a kid and seeing that, today too, he’s not quite ready to fully own his education.
The silly thing is, there’s a part of me that somehow expected a work schedule to make today all unicorns and rainbows and “Wow, my blood must be lightning because I got some energy, baby!” But sitting down to write this, I chuckle at that silly, unspoken expectation that I brought into today because there simply aren’t any silver bullets for our work.
Accept this: there will always be a gap between theory and practice
Here’s the thing: whether we’re talking about an approach to literacy instruction across the school day or a work schedule to force us into greater efficiency or working better with administrators, there’s no way around the simple fact that teaching is work, and with work there are no guarantees, no silver bullets. There is just the persistent, dogged, stubbornly joyful, Never Finished pursuit of wisdom and skill and character.
So: if you tried a work schedule today and it didn’t work well (mine didn’t do super hot), dust yourself off. That’s part of getting better. As Daniel Coyle says in The Little Book of Talent (one of my favorite reads of 2014):
There is a place, right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest. It’s called the sweet spot. [When you’re in your sweet spot, you’ll feel] frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors. You’re fully engaged in an intense struggle — as if you’re stretching with all your might for a nearly unreachable goal, brushing it with your fingertips, then reaching again.
Feel like you failed today? Take heart: Coyle goes on to say that when we’re in our sweet spot, we’ll only be successful 50-80 percent of the time.
Yet cling to this: theories can be swords
Theories can’t be silver bullets, but when we understand that getting better at teaching requires working in our sweet spots (and therefore experiencing failure 20-50 percent of the time on a given skill), they can be swords.
If you’re a nerd, it may help you to literally envision the fact that when you’re working on sticking to a work schedule or dominating some non-freaked out literacy instruction or experimenting with noncognitive skill development, you’re just working on your sword skills. Or your bo staff skills, nunchuk skills, etc.
Do me a favor
Whenever I share any tip or approach or technique or anything on this site, even if I’m super excited about it, remember: it’s not a silver bullet.
It can’t be. They don’t exist in teaching.
But it is a sword you could use to try slaying the dragons that stand between you, your students, and long-term flourishing for all of you.