Teaching is Like Driving, Part II

Our oldest daughter starts high school in a few weeks. It’s hitting me that there are some really big milestones coming up and one of them is driving. (Not that she is looking forward to it. She’s really hoping self-driving cars will be ubiquitous within the next two years.) As a result, I’m more reflective about my own driving as I think about preparing her to be a driver. I’ve been driving for almost thirty years. It’s a very different experience now than it was for me then.

I learned to drive in a manual transmission. My mom took me out to a church parking lot when it was empty and taught me. We jumped around that lot a lot. I think she may have chosen a church parking lot thinking a higher power might intervene in this process. Starting there gave me a chance to master the basics of shifting gears. By the time we drove in a more open space, I was ready to think about other aspects of driving. Which was good, because there’s a lot to think about!

From Andi Jetaime’s Flickr

Now that I’ve been driving for two-thirds of my life it’s tough to remember how difficult it was to think about all the things at one time. To know where other drivers are on the road. To be aware of my speed and how it compares to the speed limit and to other drivers. To think about where I need to turn. To decide if that yellow light means stop or not given my distance from it. To watch my rear-view mirrors. It’s exhausting to consider.

I feel the same way about teaching. I’ve been at this for two decades, not three, but it’s a different experience for me now than it was back then. Just like much of what I do as a driver is automatic now, much of what I do as a teacher is.

I don’t have to think so carefully about the language I use in my classroom now because I’ve been doing it for long enough. It is natural. I’m aware of what’s going on in different areas of the classroom without having to think about it. I have a sense of the foundational skills students need before they’re ready for the next steps. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I do as a reader, writer, mathematician, thinker, in order to understand the process my students are going through. I’m able to take all the work, thinking, and experiences of two decades into my classroom each day.

As a new driver it was terrifying (I totally get my kid’s fear). The same was true as a new teacher. Time and experience mean that it isn’t constantly scary now. And I can stretch myself as a learner and teacher because the basics are solidly there.

I’ve worked with brand new teachers who were phenomenal and far exceeded anythign in was doing in my first few years. I’m not saying one needs experience to be a strong teacher; I’m saying it sure does make the job easier.

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