Friday, April 27, 2012

Year 2: Week 31 - Being An Expert

This morning during my middle school orchestra rehearsal I looked down at my score and saw the word “morendo” towards the end of the song.  As the students were playing while I was conducting I racked my brain trying to remember what this word meant.

I asked my students to play an earlier section of the piece and as they played I got out my iPad and looked up the term.  After I stopped the students and gave them some feedback I asked them if they knew the term “morendo.”  After an interesting discussion in which one of my students insisted that it meant “purple” (seriously people?  Context clues?  Why would a composer write a color in a piece of music?)  I informed them morendo was Italian for gently dying away. 

After explaining to them that this meant for them to gradually play softer and not to literally die away (yes, that was a real concern from my students) we rehearsed this section.

One of the keys to being a great teacher is being an expert in the subject that you teach.  Students can see through a teacher who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about in a second.  Think back on teachers that you disliked.  Chances are one reason you didn’t connect with some of those teachers is that you simply didn’t buy them as experts.

Now I’m not saying that you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge about everything associated with your subject, but you should do enough homework so that you have a grasp on the context of what you are teaching so you can answer students’ questions.

Part of the key to being an expert is admitting what you don’t know.  Talking authoritatively about something you know a lot about earns you respect from your students.  Talking authoritatively about something you don’t really know much about does the opposite.  Students don’t disrespect teachers who admit to not knowing something tangentially related to a subject.  But they think teachers are jokes that pretend to know things they don’t.

If a student asks a valid question that you don’t know, admit you don't know the answer and look it up together.  This helps teaches students how to attain knowledge and shows that his or her inquiry is important enough to you that you want to look it up not only for their sake but for your own. 

As much as students are impressed by teachers who are experts they love teachers who are interested in learning with them about things they are interested in.  When you take a question from a student, admit you don’t know the answer and then take time to look it up, it’s an expression of care. 

Be an expert, do your homework, but don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.  Yes teaching is about passing on knowledge but it's also about expressing care, and engaging students in personal and meaningful learning experiences. 

Also, it doesn't hurt to keep an iPad within reach.     

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