I spent a good portion of my day today working with a teaching intern. We observed each other, we analyzed some assessments, we designed instruction, we reflected, we learned. One of the things I love about helping people learn to teach is that it is very much a coaching relationship. I can provide feedback and insight, but ultimately the intern is the one who has to practice and do the teaching. I also learn things every time I work with teachers, regardless of the stage of their career.
Today as we worked, I had a realization. Teaching, like many act that are performative, can appear as if the delivery is the most important component. But it is not. It is in the planning, thought, practice, and rehearsal. For a musician, it is the hours in a practice room, private lessons, etudes, scales, and master classes. It is learning about a specific piece of music – the composer, time period, other performances, tempos, and accompaniments. And more practice. And the practice isn’t just about learning notes and rhythms. It’s also about knowing the music so well that the performer can interpret it. It’s about being able to improvise a cadenza and take license with the adagio to make it just a bit more sultry.
The most important component is preparation. It is what allows the musician to tailor the performance. Preparation is often lonely. There is rarely applause or acknowledgement. But it leads to a performance unique to each musician, audience, and environment. Preparation is what allows a teacher to do the same, to tailer lessons and instruction unique to the specific context. It allows the teacher to make adjustments based on the students’ needs on a particular day. Are they grasping the material more quickly than expected? Do they need extra support? When a students makes a fascinating connection, does the teacher go off plan or stick with it?
The teacher needs to know their students, the content objectives, materials, assessments, and if it is a full moon. This is the intellectual work of teaching. The reason that not just anyone can teach. The reason that delivering a lesson is not the same as teaching a lesson.