Teaching Dreams of Sushi

Sake And Tekka Maki
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: drp via Compfight

Konnichiwa, I know that this title probably has you a bit perplexed, a bit hungry, or perhaps a bit of both.  I’m sure you’re wondering what Sushi has to do with education.  I promise you This will make sense.  Like the Oracle said in the Matrix after giving Neo a cookie, “by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.”

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Japan.  It was a country that was filled with many wonderful features.  The culture was rich and far more ancient than anything we have here in the United States.  I appreciate that.  While there, I of course had to go to get some sushi.  You see, I love sushi in the US and I had heard that it is even better in Japan.  Let me assure you that what you hear is correct! It was amazing, fresh, and prepared with a certain care that I haven’t seen elsewhere in all my travels.

This reminded me of a film I saw a while back called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend that you do.  It’s the story of Jiro and his lifelong dedication to truly mastering his craft (making sushi) and the very rigorous process he goes through to train and mentor those under him.  He’s mastered his craft for over 75 years and has earned 3 Michelen Stars all while operating a small sushi restaurant at the bottom of a Tokyo subway station.   I think that if we developed an understanding and a demand for excellence the way that Jiro has for our teachers, our children would be some of the best educated in the world.

Dedication

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro

I think that far too often teachers fool themselves into believing that they are dedicated to their work.  Jiro’s statement is bold. Sure teachers may feel immersed in their work but often I hear this as a complaint.  Too much to do, too little time, filling out reports, assessments, etc.  But these are part of the job.  What if teachers, willingly immersed themselves in their work, with a goal of not complaining about the job, but mastering it?  There are plenty of good teachers that do this, but there are also quite a few who do not.  I often wonder if it might be better that to become a teacher you must undergo 7-8 years of formal university work and internship. This would help to ensure that those who remain are truly dedicated.  I know this is extreme by our standards, but lets face it… right now our standards are pretty low. I’m discouraged that more universities do not encourage those who would obviously make poor teachers to choose another path.  Instead they seem focused on the money. It’s a sad commentary but one I think we can fix.

Our own regard

“If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”- Jiro

Its well known that the opinion of teaching in the US can, at times, be pretty low.  Feeding into this is the fact that a lot of teachers have bought this, hook-line-and sinker. They perpetuate the low image of the teacher as one who is under the weight of standardized tests, an oppressive educational system, or that they must bend to every parent’s desire.  They fail to stand up and believe in themselves as a professional.  I don’t know about you, but I went to university for quite a long while.  I studied, I interned, I was mentored.  I became an expert in my field and as such I will gladly debate the merits of any educational decision I make with anyone while having the confidence to do it as an expert in my field.  All of you are experts as well!

Jiro is right. If our sense of ourselves is lower than that of the parents or politicians, then how can we ever expect them to take us seriously? It is time we began to strengthen our belief in ourselves.

Love your profession

“I don’t like days away from what I love.” –Jiro

Jiro’s statement of self-reflection in which he recounts that he doesn’t like days away from what he loves should be at the heart of every teacher.  Does this mean that I think teachers should work weekends, and holidays? No. What it means is that even when you’re not with your students you should be expanding your knowledge, enjoying the learning experience, conversing with friends and colleagues.

Days when I am away from what I love are difficult.  I love helping children learn.  I love learning more about the art of good pedagogy. I love talking with other teacher friends who strive to make a difference every day in their students’ lives. I love that sanguine person who can speak with me on my hardest days and still remind me that what we do is for the good of so many.  It’s that sanguine person who becomes your foundation, without him or her it may as well all be lost; I know I would be useless. Perhaps it is in this regard that I begin to understand Jiro so much more than before because I also don’t like days away from what I love.

If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend it! It’s great to watch.  As you watch it, consider how much stronger we would all be if more universities put in even half the dedication that he speaks about into producing excellent teachers.  We have them out there, but we need to grow stronger. Dedicate yourself further today than you did yesterday and tomorrow further still! Remember what you love and never let go.

 

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