I’ve been playing guitar for about fifteen years. It’s a hobby, if it can be even called that when I dust it off infrequently. My first guitar was a Christmas gift and rather than taking lessons I began with a self-teaching set of booklets and CD’s. After abandoning that mode once I got through the first booklet, I decided I could advance myself further by picking up a book of popular sheet music with the guitar tabs in it. I rapidly learned my first real song, comprised of chords I knew I could play – “No One Needs to Know” by Shania Twain.
Many who know me may laugh when they read that hidden gem of personal history, because, despite my eclectic personal music selection, I’m known favor classic rock. To justify my beginnings as a “musician” and restore my credibility, it should be stated that Twain used to be married to John “Mutt” Lange, the very producer of albums for The Cars, AC/DC, Def Leppard, and Foreigner (and Shania Twain).
The reason for my introduction as a “musician” and its following departure is due to a comparison I’d like to share. I have recently rekindled my engagement in playing by performing a few songs during worship services at our church. While practicing this week, I was strumming a few very simple chords in a pattern and noticed that it aligned with a Marshall Tucker Band song, so I began to sing “Can’t You See”. Personally, I believe that song to be one of the most appreciated and well-known songs ever recorded. While its expression and mood promote a deep sense of despair, loss of hope, resulting in a compelling musical performance, it can’t be ignored that “Can’t You See” is comprised of three simple chords in a simple pattern.
What’s more is that many of the “greats” are equally simple. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Simple Man” are only three chords, Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” has four, Aerosmith’s “Amazing” has four, and Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” is essentially two. In my limited experience, the songs I play that are most appreciated share this same characteristic (that’s why I play them). If they’re so simple what makes these songs so great?
Now the translation and the point to all this. Where do these songs become great? Hopefully we can all agree that their greatness comes from the artists that wrote/recorded them, with particular emphasis on the performers. It is no mistake that the concert performance of any musical work is more valuable than the recorded album version. Similarly, a cover of a song can be more riveting than the original. We thrive on the performance.
Lately, a significant emphasis has been placed on the perceived and debated value of the teacher in a classroom. Conversations are abuzz with talk of value-added evaluations and their role in the improvement of the system of education on state and federal scales as a ticket to promote good teachers and weed out bad. For many, the importance of the teacher is clear and needs no additional explanation. However, for others the individuals in front of students are deemed easily replaceable by technologies and individualized curricula.
And speaking of curriculum, there are administrators leading an ambush of micromanagement demanding that teachers co-write shared curriculum in order to ensure that they are teaching the exact same lessons at the exact same pace the exact same way in order to assess using the exact same tests. Although this practice may serve some practical purposes, I’d like to witness a “success” story – I can only imagine the automated droids reading from a scripted lesson. In fact, I can attest to an experience where a co-written, co-designed unit was taught in multiple classes in very different ways. Through a lesson-study experience funded and promoted through a Teaching American History Grant awarded to and administered by the Battle Creek Schools Consortium, I was able to see how different teaching styles executed a meticulously planned set of lessons very distinctively. The results were equally positive, but still quite different.
The performance is what makes the teacher a teacher. But it is also what makes a professional a professional. Just as the great musicians with simple tunes, even the most mundane lesson can be brought to life by a skilled professional who understands the content, their students, and the methods that can bring the two together (even more so with purposefully integrated technology).
This evaluation and comparison is not intended to promote the practices of an inept teacher. The performance is part of what makes teaching a thrill – taking the edge off of a stressful class period, dodging the monotony of teaching the same class three or more hours per day, or handling the constructive criticisms of the building administrator. Every performance has its share of critics. Musicians know this well. Skilled professionals know the difference between critiques that are valuable and those that are just noise and are able to adjust their practice accordingly. If you are not professional enough to handle the parameters of the job, perhaps this profession is not for you.
As for me, I still love going to school every day – rockin’ out the same three chords.
Image credit: doug88888