Friday, June 9, 2017

The Art and Science of Teaching

As I write this post, it is the afternoon of Saturday, June 10, and I am sitting in the CAJ plaza.

Yesterday was the last day of class for the school-year, and 24 hours ago, the plaza was packed full of students excitedly beginning their summer vacation and saying their goodbyes, sometimes cheerfully and sometimes tearfully.

Today, the plaza is empty and the school feels like a ghost town.  The only sound on campus is the leaves of the Sakura trees rustling in the summer breeze.

I am grading essays.

I will have grades finished up by Wednesday, and then I will embark on my summer curriculum planning.

Teaching is both an art and a science, and the longer I teach, the more I realize that I need to approach it from both angles.

Summer is the time when teaching is mostly art.  My curriculum is a canvas, and I get to dream big--imagine what I want to be on the canvas, and then spend time figuring out the hues, the brush-strokes, the shading.  Summer is a time when I am in no rush--I can think deeply about teaching as a craft; a painting to be refined; a sculpture to be chiseled just so.  I've compared my summer curriculum work to restoring an old car, or tuning up an engine, but whatever the exact analogy, summer planning requires an artist's hand.

The school-year is the time when teaching is mostly science.  The classroom is a laboratory, and with my students serving as researchers, we test the curriculum like a hypothesis.  Day-to-day teaching involves trial and error, the collection of evidence, the consideration of constants and variables to create precise conditions.  There are patterns to be discovered, theories to be proven, and new hypotheses to be made.  Regardless of whether the hypotheses hold true, we all step away having learned something.

Now I know that this analogy may feel overly simplistic, and of course, there are elements of science to the summer planning, and art to the day-to-day teaching, but the fact remains that to thrive as a teacher, I must be both artist and scientist.

Grading is where those facets meet--the place at which the art informs the science, and the science, in turn, informs the art.

Each happens in their season--it's a wistful feeling to sit in this empty plaza, but at the end of a school-year, I'm ready to return to the drawing board!

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