Monday, October 12, 2009

Are You Experienced?

I read something recently about the counter-intuitive lessons of experience. A research study showed that as we get more experienced in a profession or a task, we do get better, but we also often become overconfident, overlooking the details or the steps that made us successful in the past.

I've been considering this lately as I wonder about myself as a teacher: Am I as good as I used to be? I can remember past classes that seemed magical while my present classes seem good, but some days are a bit of a slog. Perhaps as I look back on the past I'm painting over the ugly patches in my memory with Cocoa Rose (actual color) or remember my students at the end of the class more than the imperfect creatures they were at the beginning.

Regardless, I think we must slow down, remember and savor the steps, and not rush our students or ourselves. One of my favorite quotes comes from legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, who would tell his players to, "be quick, but don't hurry." As a teacher it is so easy to become so overwhelmed by the numbers of students and all the details that we rush or skip important steps like, "Why are we doing this?" In the goal oriented nature of education (these days), do we perhaps undervalue the process that is less easily measured? We know our students do. Their parents do. Our administrators often do.

The danger in skipping steps comes in creating a gap between our expectations for students and what we've actually prepared them to do. If we've rushed or forgotten something important without realizing it, and our students are underperforming, do we begin to blame the students? Have you met a mediocre teacher always bellyaching about how terrible the students are "these days" and what they can't do? Perhaps we're all in danger of becoming that teacher if we don't slow down, dig in, and do the slow and messy work that needs to get done each day.