I was sitting in on a colleague’s session during graduate teaching assistants’ orientation and he referred to me as a “master teacher.” I was somewhat taken aback as that was not a term I’d ever ascribed to myself. It got me thinking about George Leonard’s wonderful book Mastery. In it he describes various ways people are in their approach to improvement: dabbler, obsessive, hacker, and those on the path to mastery. I pondered if I am a master at all, if I fit Leonard’s model. Perhaps in most things I am a dabbler. Maybe I should embrace my dabblerhood and reduce my suffering. Where do you see yourself among these characters?Mastery

The dabbler tries many things, improves, plateaus and gets bored then tries something new. The obsessives are purely result oriented: inconsistent and tend to quit when they hit a plateau because they aren’t seeing linear results. The hacker is generally happy, improves some, but doesn’t stay with it or stay concerned about getting better. It’s easy to be judgmental about these approaches, but we all portray each of them at times.

One of my biggest takeaways from Leonard is that plateaus are inevitable and it is crucial to stay with our practices. Other research (e.g., by Anders Ericsson), which has been cited frequently, suggests it takes about 10 years or 10,000 hours to become an expert. My read of some of that work and The Talent Code suggests that it is how we go about the practice that is essential. An eye toward improvement and attention to correcting subtle errors is crucial.

Maybe I’ve done that with teaching; I’ve certainly put in the time, sought teachers, and done lots of analysis. Yet I find myself attracted to so many domains and undertakings, I believe I end up dabbling. It can be frustrating to see undeveloped potential.

We all also have our shadows and they are most damaging when we keep them hidden. I wonder about where I am a ninja to myself, keeping parts of myself from the light of recognition. There are obvious elements that I don’t admit to myself or rarely declare. I’ve been in Edmonton for over 19 years, yet I tend to think of myself as a visitor. I was at a dinner party on Friday and my host described me as having “Jewish connotations.” I thought that was a hilarious phrase, but it fit in that I’m rarely “out with it,” concerned about how that depiction will be received. (It was met with the somewhat typical “Oh, we have Jewish neighbours …”)

There’s more to pursue on these topics, but in dabbler-form, I’ll end it here.

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