Earlier this year my students were teaching each other about taxes. One student was struggling to explain how a progressive tax system works. He was getting really upset with himself so I went over to him and said, “You’re doing great. It’s a hard concept to explain. Teaching is hard; be patient with yourself.” At that moment, Stephen walked over, leaned in, and said, “Teaching isn't hard. Teaching is so damn easy.”
So far in this series (How Do You Teach Thinking?; How Emotions Can Support Critical Thinking) I’ve focused on student thinking. This post is about teacher thinking and how hard it is to get good at the important, but crazy challenging job of thinking about other people’s thinking – lots of people, and often on the fly. Elizabeth Green in her book “Building a Better Teacher” says this is what makes teaching so complex.
Magical (Thinking) Moments in the Classroom
This year I worked with some colleagues to create a vision for more effective teacher learning and professional development. In our discussions, we talked about those important “magical moments” that occur during a classroom discussion or conversation that we wish we could capture on film and analyze. These are the moments when how the teacher responds shapes student thinking for better or worse.
Researchers and teachers alike have spent quite a lot of time investigating, researching and dissecting these types of moments. A classic example of this phenomenon is an incredibly cool teaching moment involving Dr. Deborah Ball as she teaches prime numbers in her elementary classroom. A student named Sean makes what appears to be a mistake when explaining what makes a prime number. Dr. Ball’s response to this student gives me chills every time I watch it (even though it’s about elementary school math and I teach secondary social studies!) She allows the student’s thinking process to become the class lesson and presents Sean’s explanation as an idea worthy to be examined by the class. This magical teaching moment transformed how I thought about teaching. It deepened my appreciation and interest in student “mistakes” and “sort-of right” answers. Instead of correcting them and moving on; these are the moments to embrace and encourage. Often, they bring deeper and wider knowledge of the content to class.
Since my colleagues and I discussed these important moments earlier this year, I’ve become a little obsessed with creating and capturing them in my class. It’s hard to explain but I can feel the moment arrive. It’s a little like a mix of getting kicked in the stomach while simultaneously seeing a celebrity you love eating at the same restaurant as you. Sick and excited all at once, and trying to make the most of this opportunity while all eyes are on you.