Sunday, March 2, 2008

Imagining the Invisible Teacher

An artist is invisible in their work.

Despite this, I can wander around art museums with my mom guessing at the particular Impressionist who painted something and we get it right often enough to earn a solid B.

A masterful performer is one who makes it look easy.

If you don't know what's going on, dressage looks like the easiest equestrian sport. Somebody sits on a horse, doesn't move much, and the horse backs up and walks sideways and maybe dances around a little. What you can't see, but can probably guess at, is the incredibly amount of training that goes into preparing a horse for this sort of competition. You can't ask any old hack to do a capriole and expect results. The riders, too, must be the best. A beginner can get on a horse and yank its head around and kick it and get it to go the right way at a trot, but it takes someone who knows their stuff to communicate with miniscule movements of feet and hands while looking relaxed.

I was going to keep going, but I think the analogy is obvious. The masterful invisible teacher does a lot of work to become invisible. Their presence, in fact, is necessary for the creation of the masterwork, the classroom full of independent students engaged in their learning. You can't get the same result from throwing a bunch of kids into a classroom with some computers and a vague goal any more than you can get that dressage performance from throwing me on a camp pony.


Ms. Ward said...

I think your analogies are a useful way to think about the art of teaching. But wow, do I feel a long way from that!

I work with a teacher who each time I walk by his classroom, I see his students working on unique projects or sitting in a circle participating in a large class discussions. He learns with his students. Then I think about what others must see when they walk by my classroom.

Penelope said...

Don't worry, I'm nowhere near there yet either.

I just felt that I needed to visualize for myself what an invisible teacher is, since that's supposed to be my goal. Hard to achieve a goal you can't imagine, after all.

Ms. Ward said...

Good point!

Forgive me, but I was recently tagged by a new meme, which sort of relates to your post. I thought you might find it interesting, so I'm tagging you. Check it out on my blog.

Anthony said...


I think when and where the teacher becomes "invisible" is important. At the start of the year, I believe the teacher needs to be very visible in the classroom so that they can model and scaffold the type of learning and thinking that will be necessary for the class and the teacher's expectations. As the year goes by though, the teacher should be able to become more and more invisible. This is due in part to the successful implementation of learning strategies and structures that give the students the skills necessary for them to take more and more ownership of what is being taught in the class. So when I imagine the process of becoming an "invisible teacher", I think it is something you aim to eventually become the end of the school year, rather than at the beginning. It makes me think more and more how important it is to teach processes and strategies rather than just content.

Penelope said...

Anthony-- Thanks for the comment, and I think you've got an important point. It's something I'm trying to figure out, because I know in the past I have been visible enough at the beginning of the year.