Years ago when I lived in the hardscrabble town of Villa Altagracia in the Dominican Republic, I used to eat at Beatriz’ house with the other bachelors of the nieghborhood. Beatriz was our paid hostess. Each humid afternoon, we sat, ate, and argued during our meal at a large picnic table that engulfed Beatriz’ humble sala . Old Valtico, one of my table mates, was often impatient with my feeble comprehension of Spanish. As my Spanish improved, he would reproach me, accusing me of understanding only what was convenient for me to understand.
Although I still deny using that technique during our meal time debates long ago, I must say it comes in handy in the classroom these days. I select the behaviors I need to address. Not that I don’t have “eyes behind my head” like the proverbial teacher, it is just that I am being economical with my most precious resource: time.
The great teachers have a keen talent for ignoring those things that aren’t of great consequence. They don’t seek to extinguish every petty behavior that presents itself, but methodically select the issues that require their immediate attention, while tending to others when a “teachable moment” presents itself.
Like a maestro orchestrating a stage full of musicians, the teacher addresses the rhythm of the classroom delicately, knowing that each instrument and its corresponding musician has unique characteristics that are to be addressed accordingly. If the percussionist in the back row is thumbing a Sports Illustrated during the flute solo, the maestro might wait until the end of the evening to address the situation.
Poor Valtico was just as frustrated as some observers might be when watching a seasoned teacher at work. Why didn’t he see that boy leaning back in his chair? Didn’t he notice those two girls chatting? What about that boy staring at the ceiling? The master teacher would always have an explanation.