Why Learning to Drive is Much Like Learning to Teach

With teachers once again back in school, it is time to reflect specifically on what we do in the classroom. I have been thinking a lot about this topic during the summer. Part of the reason must have to do with the scholarly articles that I am reading, but also because I am blessed with a 16-year-old child who is currently learning how to drive. We have had many family discussions on the intricacies of driving over the last 6 months and it has been fascinating watching my daughter go through the process of learning something new. During this process, it has occurred to me that there are many parallels between learning how to drive and learning how to teach.

When a person is learning how to drive it really does feel as if you have to attend to everything around you. Your attention is fragmented between the placement of your hands on the steering wheel, the gas pedal, the brake pedal, when to turn on the blinkers, the radio, the placement of the car in the driveway, etc. There are seemingly an infinite number of items all begging for your conscious attention before the car even begins to move. I contend that being a new teacher in the classroom feels much the same way. A new teacher has an overwhelming number of pieces they are trying to juggle all at the same time. Their attention is fragmented in a million different directions while trying to simply navigate the classroom during the day.

After a person has gained experience driving, the need to attend to everything at once seems to subside as well as the common underlying anxiety. Many details, which first demanded the new driver’s attention, have now become second nature. An experienced driver is still attending to those details, but now at an automatic or subconscious level. This is true for a teacher as well. With experience comes the ability to delegate some of those classroom details to the subconscious or automatic part of the brain. How many minutes until recess? How much time will the activity take? What is the energy level of the students in the classroom? An experienced teacher just “knows” those things without having to consciously attend to them all at once.

So what does this mean for what we do in the classroom? Like driving, experience matters when it comes to teaching. We cannot expect a beginning teacher to give their undivided attention to all that goes on in the classroom. It takes time, dedication, and experience to develop into a master teacher. As a veteran teacher, I think it is an interesting exercise to understand what you consciously attend to in the classroom, where you direct your focus on a daily basis versus what you delegate to the “autopilot” part of your brain. This is something I intend to explore within myself as I continue to teach students in the classroom.

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