Friday, July 20, 2012

Of Sense and Sensibility

Intuition is a teacher's sixth sense. From the ridiculous to the sublime, we intuit a bazillion things a bazillion times a day, and since intuition is essentially based on history and knowledge, it makes complete sense that we become really, really good at it. There are only so many types or combinations of requests, responses, behaviors, and attitudes that we can experience or witness, and it's highly possible that some of us have seen them all!!

By "seen," I mean with the eyes in the backs of our heads, of course. At the basic level of intuition, we can sense what's happening "behind" us with pretty precise accuracy. We know when a student is reaching into a backpack to get a chip out of a lunchbag, and we needn't hear the backpack unzip or the bag crinkle to know; we can feel the student lean ever-so-unnaturally from his chair, and heck, we might even read his mind before he lowers his torso toward the floor. We know when two students will turn and begin to chat: just as we turn our focus to another task, or answer the classroom telephone, or spend a moment with another student across the room. We know exactly when the quirky couple in the hallway, to whom we've just spoken about PDA, will resume their awkward lip-lock; that's why we turn around and look at them sternly, hopefully before it occurs (saving all of those around them from embarrassment).

And we know, sometimes before he or she even realizes it, when a student is losing focus in the lab or mentally slipping away from our class read-aloud. We can sense a student's lack of sleep from too much gaming or a late night at work when she enters the room. We feel the tension and fall-out from an argument on the playground or in the cafeteria, we recognize what the request to go see the nurse really is, we intuit the response to the handed-back work before it's even handed back.

What our students often don't realize, though, is that we've been there, done that. Many of us are in this because we remember so vividly our own classroom experiences (and either want to duplicate them or improve upon them for our students). We asked the same questions, had the same anxieties, tried the same tactics when we were students. And all it takes is a year or two (sometimes fewer, even) to have run the gamut of experiences in our own classrooms; it's the rare instance when we get a student whose approach is novel, whose reactions we didn't expect, whose requests we couldn't predict.

So while we don't see dead people, we sure do have a sixth sense. We use it to create and maintain classroom peace, to foster learning, and to build relationships. We rely on it to head off trouble before it arrives. And we depend on it to further our understanding of our students. But I bet you already knew that.

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