Everyone thinks they can act

“Everyone thinks they can act. You would never go to a classical concert, see the most difficult violin solo and think, “I could do that!” But people do about acting. […] The better the acting, the more real it seems, and the more people think it must be easy.”

Viggo Mortenson, quoted in The Times Magazine 10.5.14

When I read this quotation, it occurred to me that I could offer a similar opinion about my own profession just by changing the word ‘act’ for ‘teach’.

This isn’t too surprising: acting and teaching are both entirely natural activities. Who hasn’t played childhood games that involved pretending to be someone else? Who hasn’t shown or explained something to a child, or to a friend or to a parent? However the fact that these activities are natural does not mean that they are easy to do well, especially if we are talking about the kind of sustained performance that would be expected of a professional.

I’m sure that acting isn’t easy. Great acting, the type that transports the audience to another place, looks so natural and easy that it’s not surprising that the audience doesn’t notice the years of training, the continual practising of the actor’s skills or the rehearsals for this role that led to a seemingly effortless performance.

I know that teaching isn’t easy. Great teaching, the type that inspires students and provides them with the support that they need to develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, looks so natural and easy that it’s not surprising that the learners don’t notice the years of training, the continual practising of the teacher’s skills or the planning for this lesson that led to a seemingly effortless delivery.

After more than twenty years as a classroom teacher, my goal remains the same: to be the best teacher I can be, so that I inspire learners and help them to develop a deep understanding and an appreciation of mathematics. After two decades of practice and a lot of professional development, I’m still learning. I will still be learning on the day that I finally leave the classroom. I have no idea whether I’m making teaching look easy and natural, I do know that it still feels like hard work – and I’m sure it always will.

I’m also sure that there will always be people whose only classroom experience consists of having been to school, but who nevertheless believe that they know what teachers do and how they could do it better. I don’t think that matters. Those people aren’t the ones who are in my classroom, trying to make a difference for my students. That’s my job. And do you know what? It’s great.

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