I realize more and more how important simplicity is to good teaching, but I also realize that it’s not easy to be a simple teacher and run a simple classroom. One of the trickiest skills I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, is how to be completely straightforward, direct, and down-to-earth in my work with students. It sounds odd to say that being simple is a “tricky” skill, but that’s part of the irony – that simplicity is one of the most complex qualities a teacher has to acquire. As the song reminds us, it’s a gift to be simple, but it’s also a talent I can consciously develop and refine. I can, for instance, practice distilling my lesson plans down to the point where both the goals and the procedures are utterly clear – no frills, trimmings, or add-ons. I can also simplify what I say in class: less shooting from the hip, more silent pauses, more thinking before I speak, fewer words but more carefully laden. This in no way means my teaching should be dull. Simplicity is not lifelessness. One of my favorite definitions for “simple” is “humble and unpretentious”, qualities I admire in a teacher – but they don’t imply dullness. A river, to me, is one of the simplest marvels in nature, but it’s loaded with the opposite of dullness. It basically does what rivers must do, simply flows where all rivers must flow, but does so with indescribable liveliness and force. I guess I’d like to teach in a strong but simple way, the way a river flows.
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