I’ve been following this reflective practice prompt. I’m exploring one event I describe (kinda) here, and how it relates to a concept I’ve called muscular teaching. In my previous post I talk about how emotionally vulnerable I was as a new teacher. So what happened, and how does that relate?
Well a few years ago, I was at a temporary summer teaching post. It was just not a good fit for me. The level was one that I was comfortable teaching, but the demographics, the curriculum, the expectations of the students — all were quite different from what I was used to. Add to that a cold dreary summer, and a toxic staffroom (I’m pretty conscientious about not student-shaming these days, about program officer-shaming, not so much) — well there were other places I’d rather have been.
So I spent my days in dumb misery, as I had in other teaching situations that just hadn’t clicked, but this time something different happened. I was standing in front of the class and it was is if an inner voice said to me, “You’re a teacher, aren’t you? So go and teach them something.”
And I did — I moved forward into the classroom and willed myself to engage the students more fully. Whereas my normal teaching pattern was largely spontaneous, this was a deliberate action, almost as if I had to force my muscles to perform the actions. It seemed at first that this was, well just going through the motions, but as I continued, it turned into teaching. The class continued and learning took place. The rest of the term was still a challenge, but we got through it and by the end of the session had achieved a certain degree of mutual respect.
Whereas teaching had always been a very natural action (I actually spouted, and believed, those obnoxious slogans like ” Do your job well and you’ll never work a day in your life.”), this was hard work. That feeling one gets on Friday afternoon — “I could really use a break from teaching right now”? I was getting that at 11 am on Monday. Still, I was getting the work done. What was more important though was that I had a way to exert control over my situation and that this was a skill I would be able to use in other situations. With each new challenge, the muscular teaching came more easily, until it became part of my teaching practice. Whereas it had originally been a response to a classroom crisis, I became able to employ it more proactively.
This muscular teaching was not totally distinct from what I had done before. I was using the same skills and knowledge that I had built up as an intuitive teacher. The difference was that I had found a way to harness this energy so that it could be used even when my first instinct would have been to panic or withdraw.
I still live for those moments of flow, when I can just be in the classroom and generate learning. The magic is still there. However, relying on that magic exclusively had been holding me back personally and professionally. Muscular teaching has bridged gaps, has got me over difficult patches, so that I have been able to move on to new challenges.
*Writing this post took a long time. I had mapped it out quite a while before Jake wrote his post on pride. What I’m saying is, I think there are similarities between his pride and my muscular teaching, but they are completely serendipitous. Besides, Jake writes it more powerfully and with quite a few more swear words.
**I also think this connects to some of the things Malcolm Gladwell is rabbiting on about in Blink and Outliers, but I’m not going to link to him because I think maybe you have already heard of him.