Tricks of the Trade

Teaching is an art. And artists have many tricks of the trade, as do teachers.

I recently remembered an event that happened years (decades) ago, that I know definitely made me a better teacher. A trick of the trade, so to speak. Early in my career, before marriage, children…when I actually had some free time…I took figure skating lessons. I was a legend…in my own mind! I could jump at least a quarter of an inch off the ice for a distance of at least two inches. I could spin so fast that you had time to do your laundry during each rotation, but hey…I was impressed with myself!

I took private lessons, which was honestly therapy for me. You can’t focus on anything else while you are skating, if you want to remain upright! So, it took my mind off of school problems, boyfriend problems, etc.

At one point, I worked on the entrance to a spin for about six months and made no progress. One night my instructor was sick, so I took a lesson with someone else. I learned the entrance that night. When my instructor was back, she was amazed and asked me how I finally got it. I told her that the substitute instructor told me to put my weight on the back of the blade, and all of the sudden it happened. She said she had been telling me that for six months. I replied no, she had been telling me to lean back. She was totally exasperated and replied that that is the same thing!

Now basically both convey the same message. But obviously one statement resonated with me, while one did not. When I thought about it later, I took leaning back to mean to lean my back back. I wasn’t leaning back on the blade. Now in hindsight it seems obvious that I needed to lean back on the blade, but I just wasn’t hearing that. It was just semantics really. But the different words made all the difference to me.

As a special education teacher, one of my tricks of the trade was to listen how the classroom teachers were explaining something and then use different words to explain the same thing. Or to use a different example. Or a different approach. It wasn’t that one of us was teaching better than the other…it was just that you never knew what was going to make it click for a student. And I learned this from the figure skating incident.

Using projects to teach authentically will only work if teachers continue to work on the art of teaching. It actually becomes even more of an art when you teach authentically, because it is different, and engaging, and wonderful.

And the above photo is of my figure skating awards, which are now 40 years old…and I still have them and still am proud! See you at the Olympics!!