When I play a piece of music previously composed, I have material with which to work:  the printed music, with notes, dynamics, perhaps even fingering.  I also have knowledge of the capabilities of the instrument.  I could mechanically move from the sheet music to the sound production, which I suspect would be a boring performance for any listener.  Or I can engage with the music, perhaps discovering something new each time I play it.  In preparing to perform, I am likely to take apart the music, try different things, reflect (perhaps subconsciously, perhaps fully consciously) on the differing results.  In a sense one could see the lesson, no matter how well defined, as the notes and the students as the instrument(s) being used – except this puts the students into perhaps too passive a role.

In improvisation, one has some idea – perhaps a theme, perhaps an outline of a musical idea – and works with that, making changes as one goes along.  Each time one improvises on the theme the result is somewhat different, which makes it scary, even as it is potentially exciting.

Yet even these images are but partial descriptions of the process of classroom teaching.

There is another role in music, and it is that of conductor:  there is pre-written music, there is an ensemble of instruments and/or voices, and the conductor is attempting to get all to work in common for a common purpose, an interpretation/performance that has a vision.

Getting closer to teaching, but still not quite there.

There is music – the lesson plan.

To a degree there is performance – both by the teacher and the class

The teacher has the responsibility similar to that of the conductor.

But there is, and always will be, some degree of improvisation, and not merely by the conductor/teacher, but by every member of the ensemble/classroom.

The analogies are far from perfect.  I understand that.

What I am trying to describe is the nature of the productive classroom environment, at least as I see it, as I have read in research, and – of greatest importance –  as my students have given me feedback.

Things will vary.  Certainly with students beginning a course there may be more direction –  it is the equivalent of learning one’s scales, or how to transpose the clef between what is written and what one hears (particular important to those of perfect pitch, I might note).

The teacher is simultaneously composer, performer, conductor, improviser and audience.

If students are to learn how to take ownership of their own learning, they will also have to learn how to do all of those roles, some more than others, depending on where they are in their learning.

As a teacher with 30 or so students in a room for 45 minutes, I may have to make several hundred decisions during the course of one class period.  I will have to adjust what I may have planned depending upon what the students bring to the “performance” or “composition” –  the class is, after all, their learning opportunity and in some ways they shape it as much if not more than I do.

Is teaching a science or an art?   Great art often involves large amounts of scientific knowledge that is assumed and transformed by the creative vision.  Art without fundamentals often is a mess, and does not express in a way that can be comprehended by others.

Thus teaching is both science and art, yet something else.

Great teaching is a co-creative process that empowers the students.

There is a Buddhist aphorism that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  Those of us who are classroom teachers must be present for that moment, yet also help the student become ready.  Then  we simultaneously become co-learners, learning from our students what they need from us, which may vary greatly between classes and among students within classes.

Just a few thoughts on teaching.  At least of my understanding of the process as  lived it over 17 years of public school classroom teaching.