Teaching is Chaotic; Learning is Messy

By Stephen Krofl June 2012

Teaching is like a duck paddling through the water.  On the surface the duck seems calm and in control, while below it's feet are constantly paddling.  As many people know, in any body of water there is a current.  Ducks must constantly paddle their feet to adjust to this current and steer clear of any dangers. While sometimes it must be done rapidly to steer through a strong current they also still paddle softly in the lighter currents.  Ducks are always moving and adjusting below the surface to adapt to their environment, no matter how calm the water or the may duck seem above.

Teaching can become chaotic, water that is our classroom can sometimes grow quite turbulent.  No matter how well you plan ahead and prepare, it is easy to become overwhelmed by managing students, grading, and lesson planning.  No matter how overwhelming the "current" of our classroom gets, we must always remain calm on the surface and constantly work to steer clear of any dangers.  As educators we must sense any problems as they come about and maneuver ourselves to either avoid them or work ourselves through them as efficiently as possible.  This is where planning comes in to play, it is a good base on which to maneuver and adjust upon.  Dangers, like setting low expectations or only teaching in one style, ultimately lead to students crashing into rocks out of improper guidance.

While ducks are paddling and adjusting to the currents, they always seem at peace on the surface.  In teaching, our behaviors and attitudes will reflect onto our students.  If we exude a very chaotic and unorganized manner, our students will pick up on that.  This could lead to a lack of respect.  Teenagers are especially good at picking up at these nuances of personalities.  Although a teacher should be respectful and genuine to students at all times, they must also appear to always be in control.  There are many students that will feed off a lack of confidence in the classroom, which can lead to classroom management issues.  Even if a teacher begins to be "shaken up" by turbulence in the classroom, they must remain calm and in control of their surroundings.  They must constantly adjust and use a variety of techniques to remain in control.

In adjusting to the changing "current", teachers are never satisfied with where they are currently at.  They are constantly modifying and critiquing their own work.  Assessing their students' knowledge as well as their ability to inspire their students to learn.  One of a teacher's greatest tools is formative assessment to see what their students know.  This also assesses how well we, as teachers, are doing.  By assessing what works well and what doesn't, it will help us to paddle away from the things that are not helpful to students.

Learning is truly a "messy" process, it is expected that it will be a bumpy ride.  After all, learning (especially in science) is a very open ended process!  In fact the lack of a current leads to a stagnant classroom.  Stagnant water leads to dangers such as disease.  Remaining stagnant in the classroom can often be a disease as well.  A great teacher,  much like a duck, appears to be in control of their environment on the surface, while underneath they are paddling at "a million miles a second" to steer their way the maze that is teaching.  By being mindful of their environment and constantly adjusting to what comes their way, great teachers are formed.