Alphabetical or by Height?

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“All right, everybody line up alphabetically according to your height.” Casey Stengel

It must have been fun to be a sportswriter covering baseball in New York when Casey Stengel was managing the Yankees and then later the Mets. Casey always seemed to have something colorful to say and quite often the “color” seemed to come from his flagrant abuse of language or logic or both.

But if you take a second look at the line quoted here, there’s a feasible argument that even if Casey had misspoken at the time, there’s still wisdom to be gleaned from his words. After all, who hasn’t had two more-or-less parallel ideas in mind when trying to express a single thought? Beyond that, if you’ve ever given yourself enough time to think of two or more ways to present the same point in your teaching, how often was the first option the best one? If my experience is at all typical, the best ideas are not very often the first-born.

I’ve written elsewhere that my first instinctual responses in the classroom were not always in my or my students’ best interests. More importantly, my first choices in planning lessons – whether for the classroom or the training room – were sometimes misguided at best and potentially disastrous at worst. Somehow I don’t think I’m the only teacher who is guilty of having had weak first ideas.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that you’re a better teacher when you “play it by ear” or “shoot from the hip.”  To be quite candid, it used to drive my wife nuts that I would take so much less time doing my weekly lesson planning than she did. Sometimes my plans contained only a single phrase to cover an entire period of a book discussion. I would set out to have the class discuss the role of self-image in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, for example. That’s a pretty brief plan and those plans didn’t always work out in class as well as they had in my head. Other times such simple plans helped drive creative and very informative class sessions. In the end, though, for very, very few of us is it really true that shooting from the hip should be the default mode for planning.

Line your plans up alphabetically and by height. You might be surprised what you see when you survey the ranks.

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