I haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, but I have heard enough about it to feel as if I have. The handy little factoid that is most quoted is the 10,000 hours rule; basically, that it takes 10,000 hours of hard practice to master achieve mastery of one’s given discipline. What constitutes mastery, or practice for that matter, is the kind of significant detail which gets lost as original research is interpreted by popular science, and re-interpreted by the people who read popular science, and re-reinterpreted by the people who read the tweets of the people who read popular science. That’s where I come in.
Whether it’s a figure that stands up to scrutiny or not, it feels right. It’s a round number, for a start. It’s impressively big, too, but not unachievable. Worth checking to see if I qualify, I thought. It turns out, I’m some way short of being an expert. In the twelve years since I started teaching, according to my back-of-a-fag-packet calculations I have spent about 6,000 hours in the classroom. At current rates, I should become an expert sometime in 2017. Can’t wait.
One of the reasons I have been rather quiet on the blogging and tweeting front of late relates to this lack of expertise. This isn’t false modesty, and I am not fishing for compliments. I think fundamentally I can be a good teacher, and I have pieces of paper to prove it from people who have actually seen me teach
But I think for me at the moment I need to spend less time talking to others and more time talking to myself. That’s why I’ve started writing a teaching journal again – actually seven of them, one fat, lined paper notebook for each class of students I currently teach. Before class, I write my lesson plans, what I’ll need, some rough timings. During class I write notes to myself, about who is quiet, who needs a poke, who needs an arm around the shoulder and about what is working and why. And after class I paste in scraps of worksheets, draw diagrams of the state of the whiteboard, and scribble critiques . It’s something I haven’t done for a long time, but it has reminded me of what a technologically mediated PLN can’t do.
- It isn’t a place to be truly honest. Even now, I am selecting my words carefully, but sometimes I just want to complain about something. Constructive? No. Mature? Not really. But everyone has to let off steam from time to time. Of course, you can’t do that online. Because it’s forever, and you will probably get sacked. Whereas if I want to go off on a vitriolic rant in my journal, no harm done.
- It isn’t a place to discuss the minutiae of your own classroom experience. For one thing, everyone would get bored. Even if they don’t, discussion quickly moves from the local to the global, from the specific to the general. This cross-pollination of ideas is very healthy, and I am glad to learn from teachers in different contexts. But at 9:20, I am the one who has to walk into that classroom alone, and I am the only one (along with the students) who can figure out how to make it work.
- It doesn’t promote reflection. Too much information, no time to think about it. “Hmmm… I wonder what I should do about.. Oh look! Another tweet!”
So this is the step back I have taken. A step back to written lesson plans, to the nuts and bolts of a lesson, to exactly how I should set up a listening exercise, and all the other mundane stuff which a real expert teacher needs to know. With a bit of an effort, I might even make it before 2017.