By developing a deep reserve of techniques, good
teachers learn how to read each situation.
Carol Frederick Steele
In 7th grade, my classmates and I had the same six teachers every day. In five of those classes, we regularly acted up or tuned out; in the 6th class, we were attentive and productive. What made the difference? For one hour we had an inspired teacher.
What Is Inspired Teaching?
In describing great teaching, I prefer the term inspired to
effective. Inspired teaching has three components. First, the
teacher has a broad, deep understanding of the subject being
taught, developed through coursework, life experience,
and continuous refinement. Inspired teachers comprehend
subtleties, contradictions, and all the fine points necessary to
fully respond to almost any question about their subject that
arises. Second, the teacher has a wide repertoire of teaching
techniques—also fine-tuned over time—and is comfortable
and competent with each one. Thus, it’s simple for him or
her to select one useful approach from many and fit it seamlessly into a lesson. Third, an inspired teacher can also “read”
students, situations, settings, and reactions and can select apt
responses so that learning goes smoothly. When teaching, the
unexpected is the norm. No matter how much you prepare,
there is always some reaction from a student you never could
have predicted—a question, comment, analogy, or personal
quirk. The apparently intuitive responses of expert teachers
reflect the distillation of months or years of learning until the
essential understanding is in their bones.
So how do teaching skills develop over time? I believe
teachers progress through four stages: unaware, aware,
capable, and inspired. No matter what field a person enters—
teaching, civil engineering, or filmmaking—all beginners start
out relatively unaware of important information. This is not a
condemnation; it’s a fact. As new practitioners learn new facts,
understanding increases. Practitioners progress to the aware
level once they master concepts, theories, and the names of
techniques. Still, while novice teachers are aware of much
information important to teaching, they aren’t yet able to use
everything they’ve heard about.