Saturday, September 3, 2016

Teaching Is Like a Sushi Roll

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Two of my high school English learners graduated last June, and we had a "Sushi Party" to celebrate their rite of passage. The students are originally from Laos, and while sushi is Japanese, it happens to be their favorite food - and mine. Sushi was often a topic of conversation whenever we discussed food in class, so when a classmate suggested a sushi party, she didn't exactly need to twist my arm.

As I reflected on this delightful evening with my students, I began pondering the many ways teaching is like a sushi roll.  Here are just a few:

Raw - Though there are endless varieties of sushi rolls, most of them contain raw seafood. Webster defines raw as "being in or nearly in a natural state."The most effective teachers are authentic and natural - not afraid to admit when they are wrong or when they've failed. Kids see right through us anyway, so why not be upfront and "raw".
Fresh - Teaching, like raw seafood, is best when it's fresh. Teaching is continually changing, and we can't be effective teachers if we recycle our lessons and strategies year after year.  Just like sushi, we must keep our instruction fresh or it will go bad and therefore, stifle growth (ours as well as our students'). From emerging research to shifting perspectives to innovative technologies, change is constant despite the perception that many areas remain relatively unchanged.

Not For Everyone - To some, sushi is a delicious delicacy, while others find it nothing short of repulsive. Teaching is about heart and soul, not paycheck or prestige. Despite it being a difficult, draining, and often thankless job, most teachers can't imagine themselves doing anything else, while many outside the profession wouldn't do it for a million dollars.

Sticky - You can't have a good sushi roll without sticky rice. From classroom management to grading policies to parental conflicts, teachers can potentially find themselves in some really sticky situations. While we dread being in an uncomfortable spot, these tough situations are essential to our personal and professional growth. It's important that we handle issues with diplomacy and grace, always asking ourselves what we can learn from these circumstances. Hopefully, one day we can look back at those times and laugh. 
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Chopsticks - Most sushi eaters I know use chopsticks. Rather than using silverware, chopsticks are the utensils of choice because sushi pieces are intended to be consumed in one bite, and chopsticks help keep the pieces from falling apart. Like chopsticks, the best teaching tools are those that enable us to keep our instructional delivery from falling apart, helping our learners take in knowledge piece by piece. Furthermore, learning to use them can be tricky, especially at first, but they are fun to use. While some people are natural at using the utensils, it takes practice for most of us to master the art. Same goes with teaching tools. The most effective tools and strategies can be tricky to implement but when utilized effectively they can add lots of fun to our practice.

Expensive.  Sushi rolls are expensive, and you don't get a lot of food for the money, but to a sushi lover, there's lots to appreciate. Teaching is no different. We spend countless hours planning, grading, reflecting, in spite of the fact that it's not exactly a lucrative field. But if we love it, just like sushi, we will savor every bit.

Roll - A good teacher has to roll with punches and not get discouraged when things don't turn out exactly as planned. We can't stress too much, especially about the aspects of our job that we cannot control. Quick thinking and an optimistic outlook are as invaluable as sharp pedagogical skills.

Like a good sushi roll, I find teaching to be enormously fulfilling and satisfying. Having the opportunity to inspire young people and make a positive impact on their lives and their choices is truly an honor and a privilege. Sure, some days are grueling and exhausting, but most days I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Below are some photos of our sushi party at Fusion Bowl.