Friday, August 01, 2008


“Playing second fiddle”

Nothing is harder for me as a teacher than to “play second fiddle”. For as long as I can remember, I have thought of a teacher as being the absolute leader in the classroom, the person at the front of the room whom everyone looked to for guidance and assistance. In my mind, if the classroom were an orchestra pit, the teacher would, at the very least, be the “first fiddle”, and more likely the conductor. It’s the concept of teaching that was implanted in me from my earliest days in school, which makes playing second fiddle in my classroom a relentlessly demanding task. However, it’s a mission I need to undertake and master, because I’ve come to understand that it’s one of the great secrets of good teaching. Only by playing second fiddle can I allow my scholars to play first fiddle – to show off their bountiful talents as readers, writers, and thinkers. Only by standing off in the shadows can I authorize the scholars to be fully in the sunshine. By silencing or softening my own “music”, I can permit the kids to play their own solos day after day. Most of the exemplary teachers in history have understood this truth. Jesus, a teacher whose pedagogical methods I greatly admire, counseled his disciples (who were teachers-in-training) to teach in a quiet, inconspicuous, and unobtrusive manner – to stay out of the spotlight, to play second, third, or fourth fiddle. “Teach secretly” might have been his motto. Teach in a way that leaves you unnoticed and your scholars praised and honored.

That’s not an easy task for one who was raised on the idea of teacher-as-conductor, but I’m working on it.

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