DaVinci. Pythagoras. Einstein.  When we first hear those names, we are likely to classify these brilliant men as scientists.  DaVinci is well-known for his Vitruvian Man, revealing the precise proportions of man. Pythagoras is renowned for his theorem involving triangles, but he is also known for his theory involving the shapes of orbits.  “He suggested that the Solar System operated on the principle of stars and planets moving in uniform circular motion in crystalline spherical orbits. These circles moving within circles were all arranged in ratio and proportion to each other and vibrations from where the orbits rubbed together produced the so-called  music of the spheres” (Jaccard 2007). Finally, there is the brilliant Einstein, whose contributions to physics have made him legendary.

Courtesy of
Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man

We seem to have a disposition that requires us to label and categorize.  In many cases, this is done in vain and provides little to no benefit.  The aforementioned men are very commonly labeled as scientists, but I’m sure many of you, at first thought, also labeled DaVinci as an artist.  In fact, maybe DaVinci is more commonly labeled as such.  Pythagoras and Einstein are no different.  Pythagoras’ theory involving the solar system is simultaneously scientific and artistic, while Einstein insisted that if it wasn’t for science, he would be a musician, as he seemed to “think in music.”

Nothing can be purely defined as science or art.  These two areas are mutualistic in nature: If one did not exist, it would be very difficult for the other to survive.

So what is teaching then?  Is it a science or an art?

You weren’t listening–it’s neither.

I don’t dislike the fact that teaching can be referred to as an art.  In fact, I believe many of its components are purely artistic.  I sometimes sit and ponder the months that have passed, trying to wrap my mind around the number of things we’ve learned and how we’ve managed to process so many concepts in a relatively short period of time.  I am also constantly amazed at how spongy kids, as a whole, seem to be.  They absorb so many little bits of information, sometimes things I don’t even remember saying.  Something as complex as teaching twenty-five little humans could not be accomplished if not for some of its more artistic components.  At times, I am also partial to the fact that there is a great deal of science behind teaching. Bloom’s Taxonomy, the learning process, and developmental theories have greatly influenced best practice–best practice that has been proven to enrich curricula and increase student learning.

Within a single lesson, I believe the structure to be a science: determining the outcome (and its proficiency using Bloom’s), finding a set of activities or teaching strategies, seeking out materials conducive to an effective lesson, and creating the assessment.  The science behind teaching is necessary, we know it to be effective, and it gives us the possibility of some data through which to discern the effectiveness of our practice.  However, the art lies within the actual teaching of the lesson.  It is virtually impossible to anticipate all misconceptions and the entirety of the wonderful questions that kids ask.  This less scientific side of teaching requires us to respond to those questions and turn them into opportunities for further learning, to take a “teachable moment” and create a quest for more knowledge and an opportunity to fall in love with inquiry.  It requires the work of an artist.

So let’s stop trying to define it.  Quite honestly, I’m already tired just thinking about it, and truly, what’s the point?  Let’s stop pretending like we have all the answers.  Let’s stop labeling every little thing we do, and just do what inspires kids, what helps them learn, and what helps them see the potential that they can “unleash” from inside.

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