Several months ago, I wrote a blog post comparing the experience of a 16-year old learning how to drive to the experience of being a new teacher. In that post, I made the point that both are initially overwhelmed with the number of items that vie for their attention, whether it be a driver behind the wheel or a teacher in the classroom full of students. In either instance, you are trying to consciously process a tremendous amount of information from your surroundings at the same time. A new driver is consciously attending to the dashboard, side mirrors, the steering wheel, current speed, location of the car within a lane, and the cars in the surrounding vicinity. Meanwhile, a new teacher is consciously processing each student’s attention and mood, the current lesson, timing and transitions, and the materials needed for each student. Eventually, with experience, some of what they feel they need to consciously attend to at all times is regulated to their subconscious, allowing them to concentrate on other things – on the surrounding road or in the classroom each day.
I currently have a daughter who is six months into the process of learning how to drive. She has moved passed the initial stage and has regulated a significant number of the sensory inputs to her subconscious processing and her “sphere of noticing” has increased exponentially. Instead of worrying about the dials on the dashboard, she is now increasingly observing the road ahead and anticipating cross-traffic as well as other potential problems. Along with this expansion of her “sphere of influence” has come increased confidence in her ability to drive.
My work with teachers reflects this change as well. As a teacher gains experience in the classroom his or her attention, which is initially narrowly focused and strained, is eventually able to expand to delegating some of the “sensory load” to the subconscious part of the brain. This allows a significant increase in what a teacher overall can attend to in the classroom, which in turn increases their confidence in their ability significantly. Within education, as it is with driving, confidence is a key component of being successful and certainly comes with experience. Students are quick to pick up on a teacher’s lack of self-confidence and disengage from a topic. Conversely, students are more apt to become excited and be actively engaged if a teacher exudes confidence about a topic they are discussing. A teacher’s confidence is something that is very hard to fake but can certainly be developed over time with practice. There are many books in teacher education directed at increasing a teacher’s confidence in the classroom. Ironically there is no perfect formula for solving this problem. Every teacher is unique and in a different situation and educational environment. While there is no “magic bullet” to increasing confidence, there are things that can be done to increase a teacher’s confidence in the classroom. Over the next several blog posts I will talk about the idea of confidence and how it relates to both teachers and students. So, stay tuned. There is much to talk about. I would also encourage those in education who do read this blog to discuss your experiences in the classroom in the comment section below. Let us begin a dialog where we all can learn from each other.