The Learning Teacher

4 Points Talk Teacher

Forty years ago, I began my first teaching job at a boy’s boarding school 70 miles north of New York City. While I figured that I’d teach and coach for a couple of years before going off to law or grad school, my basic plan was to not have a plan.

Teaching is probably like life itself: It must be lived forward, but it can only be understood in reverse. You often find yourself sighing, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” I suspect I’ll be sighing as such until I’m through. Until then, I thought I’d riff a bit on some things I’ve learned.  Here are ten things that have percolated up to the surface in the spirit of grounded theory.

#1 – You can’t spend too much time on helping them write better. It’s impossible.

#2 – Writing instruction void of enforcement is basically useless.

#3 – Some teachers say, “Write as you speak.” I say, No, you should write better than you speak. You speak in real time, but you can edit your writing until you get it right.

#4 – When assessing a classful of writers, I ask them to write a page on this question: What is a bicycle and how does it work? The sample responses usually tell me what I need to know in identifying the sweet spot of capability in the class.

#5 – Each and every kid yearns to impress him- or herself in some way. If that doesn’t happen, I have not done my job.

#6 – An understanding of cause-and-effect trumps remembering chronology of events. The former leads to the latter; the latter by itself tends to leads nowhere.

#7 – If my class can command a basic grasp of the Marbury v. Madison (1803) U. S. Supreme Court Case, I know I’m working with a group that can cover a lot of ground. It doesn’t really matter to me. My love is not conditional on academic understanding, but Marbury is my go-to litmus test on assessing class learning capacity.

#8 – Public and private day school athletic coaching is about program development with stuff like youth development teams and off-season activities. Boarding school coaching is all about what you can do with what you have… right now.  Whereas the former might be likened to producing a feature film, the latter is closer to directing a summer stock play.

#9 – Due to #8, expect to play a lot of zone defense, regardless of the sport.

#10 – Hyde coaching legend Gary Kent used to say, “Baby a loser; beat on a winner.” If your team is losing, tell them you believe in them and assure them that the next win is just around the corner. If your team is winning, tell them they haven’t yet been pushed and are in for a rude awakening when that happens. (And it will.)  Yup.  Expect to see more Gary Kent wisdom in future posts.

More to come. Onward,  Malcolm Gauld