The Art of War or The Art of Teaching?

When I teach subject / verb agreement, my old handouts and even older textbook review the rule: certain phrases, like “many a” always have singular verbs.  Of course, one kid always has to ask, “Who says “many a” any way?”

My reply: “Many a person does.  Or, at least they did, last century, when I was in high school.  I have to plan for inquisitive, facetious students who like to question authority.  To be honest, I love those kids.  (I just like them to raise their hands first.)

As many a teacher does during the summer, I have been planning for next year.  I have worked with colleagues on the new CORE curriculum.  I have read new novels and stories, created activities, writing assignments, and quizzes.

I have even mapped out the entire year.  As the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  Thus, I have an idea of where I am going this year.

Like most teachers during their first year of teaching, my plan was to stay a few days ahead of the students.  I succeeded most of the time.  I remember thinking that teaching is similar to preparing for war.  I once said that to a curriculum director for gifted and talented students, and she proceeded to admonish me for thinking schools were battle zones with the teacher and student always in conflict like Muslims and Christians during the Crusades.  She was missing my point and did not stop talking long enough for me to explain.  I guess she was used to lecturing gifted and talented kids and having them sit passively as if she was the sage on the stage.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist and author of The Art of War, said, “When one treats people with benevolence, justice, and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”  Replace army with students and leaders with teachers.  Most teachers are kind and fair.  Most students are well-behaved and courteous.  Of course, every once in a while, there is that one kid who wants to create conflict, like an enemy soldier on the filed of battle.  Sun Tzu describes the best way to handle the disruptive student: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”  One of my old principals gave me similar advice: “Never get in a stink fight with a skunk; you both come away smelling bad.”

Thus, teachers treat their students with respect; after all, we are in the battle to learn together.   In addition, teachers plan, plan, and plan more lessons.  Like the great generals, teachers know, though, that every great plan will change.  For example, prior to a meeting with the Allies Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George Patton began to create plans to move The Third Army to help save the valuable crossroads at Bastogne. During the meeting, Ike, hoping to have the Third Army relieve the paratroopers at Bastogne within two weeks was surprised when Patton responded, “As soon as you’re through with me,” Patton claimed.  I can attack the day after tomorrow morning.” He had thought his moves out the night before and had three alternative plans.  All he had to do was telephone a code word to activate his troops.  Later, Patton commented on his plans: “The point I am trying to bring out is that one does not plan and then try to make circumstances fit those plans. One tries to make plans fit the circumstances.”  He realized that in battle, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a classroom, no lesson plan survives contact with all learners.  Students learn different ways and at different rates. Today, creating multiple plans to reach all types of learners is called differentiated instruction.  Many of us still just call it teaching.

So, a kid questions authority or students struggle with a concept.  Do teachers keep to their plan like Generals did in WWI: send the boys over the top, hoping the enemy’s machine guns run out of ammunition?  No.  Teachers adhere to the words of Winston Churchill:  “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan.”  Teachers have back up plans.

Unfortunately, Miss Gifted and Talented Curriculum Creator, did not listen to my use of the word “planning.”  I was not comparing the classroom to a war zone.   I was comparing the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare.  Our good teachers are willing to make decisions quickly.  Good leaders do that.  They have contingency plans and like good sailors, they adjust their sails when the wind changes.

And, now time to go back to planning…



Filed under Education, Goals, Lesson Plans

5 responses to “The Art of War or The Art of Teaching?

  1. allaccesspass

    Great analogy with great quotes! I love this perspective. If only I knew what I was teaching this fall. Our schedule is still being made and our school is going thru a major overhaul. I have been focusing my energy on best practices, my blog, and getting ideas from others. I might go into this year’s battle a little differently, a little ill prepared, but I’ve gathered a lot of tools and weapons.

  2. Excellent article! Having a plan not only helps the teacher, but also the students. Many a student feels much more secure when the teacher can lay out the goals and objectives and can explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. Learning about backwards planning was really helpful for me. I could establish teaching goals and plan strategically to get the students there. This way the students know what they’re working toward.

    • Thank you for the kind words and using “Many a” in a sentence! There seems to be a movement to change teaching goals into “I can” statements that the kids will use. For example, I can use the correct verb when I write a sentence beginning with “Many a.” Whatever we call them, planning and setting goals and making the kids aware of where we are going with the work is all helpful.

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