Adjusting Your Teaching Dials

Is this the right moment to show compassion by allowing a student to turn in that late assignment? Or would a tough-love approach teach them to be responsible about deadlines? Should you follow that interesting topic that came up organically or stick to your lesson plan? How much of your class time should be devoted to activities that don’t feel like good teaching but might help your kids squeeze extra points out of a high-stakes test?

The answer to all of these questions is:

There is no set answer.

In some ways, being a teacher is like being a sound engineer at a concert, staring down at a mixing board full of dials and levers.

Each of the controls brings you closer to one of two opposing characteristics. And either of these characteristics might, depending on the moment, be a good quality in a teacher.

One lever, for example, might hover between patience and sense of urgency. Both of these are characteristics that can make for good teaching, but it’s nearly impossible to demonstrate both at the same time.

Another control might adjust the balance between consistency and flexibility, helping you decide whether to stick to the rules or make an exception for a special case. Yet another lever might slide along the spectrum of efficiency-vs-thoroughness; you feel you should explain a concept better, but you also need to finish your lesson by the time the bell rings.

As a teacher, you are constantly making small adjustments, aiming for pitch-perfect harmony.

Any of the knobs can be turned in the wrong direction. But they can also be turned so far in the right direction that the right direction becomes the wrong direction.

Sometimes you don’t know you’ve turned a dial too far until some painful feedback comes screeching out in front of everyone—or a nagging sense of mental reverb follows you all the way home.

So, what’s the best approach to making these decisions in real time?

First, you can learn to recognize this type of scenario when it comes up in your classroom. Teaching-related judgment calls can sometimes feel like high-stakes pop quizzes with right-or-wrong answers. And it’s easy to feel like there are lots of moral strings attached: Are you the type of teacher who would ignore a student in need? Are you just going to let them walk all over you?

If you know, however, that this is a dial-adjusting situation, then at least you know you’re aiming for the right balance for the moment.

If you’re trying to figure out exactly which dial you’re looking at, which direction it should turn, and how far, a session of See Me After Class Office Hours might be just what you need.

Figuring out that a dial needs to be turned or lever needs to be adjusted is progress. But it might not be all you need. After all, in this very extended concert metaphor, you’re both the sound engineer and the performer onstage. Sometimes you need an extra set of ears on the problem—ideally someone with a bit of distance from the huge number of decisions you’re making every second of every day as a teacher.

If you’d like to book a session, choose one of the options below and click the “Book Me” button to select an available time from the calendar. If you experience any technical difficulties, you can also try this direct link to the booking page.