Great teachers did more than obsess on the efficiency of their classroom — their questions were artful; their assignments, demanding — but there was a clear tendency among positive outliers to see the power of the humdrum, the everyday.Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi
Thirteen years ago, with the ink on my teaching certificate still drying, I was days away from teaching sixth graders at a middle school in Baltimore. The large district that employed me did its newbies — of which I was only one of hundreds — a favor, and they flew in Dr. Harry Wong, author of the iconic The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher, to give us some pre-gametime inspiration.
I don't remember a thing about Dr. Wong's presentation. This was no fault of his, of course; I was just too scared to listen, so full were my head and heart with the ringing truism that the first day of school sets the course for all the 179 or so that follow it.
Thirteen years later, I can tell you that while of course first days and last days are special, they're not omnipotent — not even close. What's far more critical is the way in which you'll use all the minutes allotted to you this year.
What matters, in other words, is what we make of the “humdrum,” of the everyday, those little minutes at the start and end and middle of our lessons. Those are 99% of the field in which we'll sow (or not) the seeds of academic mastery.
The other day I was speaking with Crystal, and we once again came to the topic of a home purchase we are considering here in our town. We keep finding this instinct inside ourselves that says to hurryhurryhurryhurryhurry-otherwise-you-won't-get-this-that-the-other-thing-price-value-sale-seller… It's like this little rapacious creature that keeps crawling on our shoulders, whispering a string of indecipherable babble. And what we were conversing about is how the little animal is a silly thing — that in fact we have food and clothing and shelter, and fixating aggressively on this potential move will only work to distract us from our actual life — which is today.
The power of living well and teaching well is only accessible now. The well-being of the Stuart family isn't found in which home we live in — it's found in today's humdrum moments. Sure, a home is an important thing — just as a first day of school is. But if we end up in the “right” home or the “wrong” home, or if you and I have a “great” first day of school or just an “okay” one, it won't make nearly as consequential a difference in the long run as will our ability to perseveringly bring ourselves back, day by day, to the power of the minutes we have now.
So by all means, prep up for the first day, and seek to make it really great. (If you're worried about classroom management, definitely consider Lynsay's course on the topic because it's world class, and it'll help.) But when the little quibbling creature comes crawling on your shoulder, do swat it away with the truth that the power isn't in the first day or the last — it's in all the minutes in between.