I picked up Zen and the Art of Pottery again last night and was struck by this timely truth:

An anonymous cup made five thousand years ago can be my teacher…

As I think about my path to becoming proficient as a teacher who focuses on delivering comprehensible input (and ensuring that the input has been comprehended), I know that I intentionally channelled those teachers whose style and execution of the principles of CI resonated with me. The anonymous cup was crafted by an anonymous master potter whose routines, rituals, techniques and recipes are all unknown. How lucky I was to have witnessed master teachers crafting language learners.

One master prepared her students for success by explicitly teaching students how to respond with both verbal and nonverbal utterances like the master potter wedges the clay to eliminate air pockets and align clay particles so the clay flows smoothly through the fingers.

Another master teacher differentiated instruction, empowering his students to respond in their own way, with their own words, at their own time like the master potter who may work in series, but allows each individual vessel its own unique marks.

Yet another master teacher knew to distinguish between which students needed to be challenged to produce more and which ones required more time, more listening, more comprehension, like the master potter knows which brush mark or lack of brush mark will allow each form to sing with its own voice.

All that went into making these master teachers is anonymous to me. Their journey is unknown to me like the origins of the anonymous cup. They were created from their own experiences, as the cup was crafted by an anonymous potter.

But on our own journey crafting language learners, we remember no two handcrafted cups are exactly alike. No two master potters touch clay in exactly the same way and no two master teachers evoke joy and success in exactly the same way. Even so, the five thousand year old anonymous cup is worth studying and admiring. And the techniques of the master potter who crafted it are worth emulating:

One does not imitate these forms; one participates with them in the attitude and ritual inseparable from them. We imitate our masters only because we are not yet masters ourselves, and only because in doing so we learn the truth about what cannot be imitated.

Channel a master. We cannot become the master – we must become ourselves.

Know that eventually your own voice will sing the way only your voice can sing.

The Truth About What Cannot Be Imitated

2 thoughts on “The Truth About What Cannot Be Imitated

  • August 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Your post popped into my inbox just as I was in a bit of a panic about the first day of school. I’m reading over my IFLT notes, scouring websites, trying to make this my own. Thanks for the calm, just when it was needed. : )

  • August 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Oh my goodness, I feel like I just got a great big Grant Boulanger bear hug reading this.

    Above Grant seems to say that I can find my own way in teaching; it’s a craft, not a science. There is a masterful way to teach, and I have to pursue it and not be complacent. But I also need to go on that journey steadily and calmly… not frantically trying to copy others and “do it right.”

    Standardize how and what we teach is the current state of things in education. Standardized curriculum, standardized tests, standardized training in how to follow methods step-by-step.
    But Grant says we can and should become masters in our own way. Grant Boulanger is re-professionalizing teachers.

    This is inspiring. Thank you!

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