Ninja Teaching – 3 Steps to Not Planning, a guest post by Mark W. Guay

This guest blog post comes from Mark W. Guay, an Edu-Innovator in NYC. He’s kind of funny…after he has some coffee. 

There I was singing “Be Prepared” in front of my class one day. You know, the song Uncle Scar sings to his little hyenas. Be prepared for anything and everything -the perfect message to spark some energy in my already tired-out 8th period class and a serious message for new teachers entering the arena. And the best way to be prepared? You guessed it!


Joking aside, Uncle Scar’s mothering message speaks true to teachers just as much as Hamlet relates to Lion King. Take the new teacher for example. All-night lesson planning sessions after feeding the newborn provide beautiful scripted lesson plans for each minute of a 42- minute class. Bell to bell. A lot like a play, or a movie. Press play and it’s all good, right?

Wrong. Try again…Here’s three serious lessons all great teachers know.

3 Steps to Not Planning

1. Sense your Audience

A teacher asks herself, which of the Seven Dwarfs are my students today? If they are anyone other than happy, she tunes into her ninja sense of empathy and plays the cards right, sometimes turning into the sweet grandma and other times instilling Machiavellian fear. Teachers tap into their multiple personalities to motivate and reach into their bag of tricks.

2. The Bag of Tricks

When riding the roller coaster of teaching, great teachers keep this on hand AT ALL TIMES. These tricks are what teachers build up over a career: witty jokes, playful analogies, impromptu mini-lessons that have worked time after time, and sometimes metaphorical candy like 100 Grand bars (or health food, like raisins, if you want to be awesome).

3. Student-Centered Learning

If a teacher looks out and sees the black hole of Hades staring back, it’s time to stop, reflect and think…hmmm.. what are my students doing? Instead of breaking out a sweat from lecturing so hard, great teachers turn to student-centered lessons, adapting the plan to get the students to learn through doing. Lecture bad, group-work good. Of course, make sure to not put Tim in a group with Sally because you’re pretty sure they just broke up last period and that would be a teary mess.

Teachers are like ninjas. They don’t just teach and be a master of a subject (Tweet this!). They master crowd-control like a prison guard, inspire students like Grandma did when we were children, sell-sell-sell better than Willy Loman could dream of and project manage 150 separate student-delegated projects every day. They just carry #2 pencils instead of throwing stars. Or, so, we hope so.

It’s often said that it’s far more dangerous to drive your car to the amusement park than it is to ride the roller coaster. That’s true for teaching, as well. It’s a lot easier to stick with the lesson plan, follow the directions the packet said to do, and ride out the structure that’s supposed to work. It’s a whole lot safer. It’s far more difficult to throw a plan out the window and adapt – to realize it isn’t working, even though you took hours to prepare it (Tweet this!) 

I remember enjoying an espresso with a professional writer. He said the difference between a professional writer and an amateur one is that a professional writer will finish a book after sweaty hours of painful labor, then chuck it out the window if it’s not working. An amateur writer holds every word produced on a pedestal. A holy grail.

Like writing, there’s no holy grail in teaching. It takes a daily dose of improv and a damn fine cup of coffee.

Mark W. Guay writes on transforming education to meet the new economy – one that no longer requires factory workers to punch in, but preparing right-brain thinkers to work conceptually and connect digitally. Mark dreams of an inter-connected global learning experience like pen pal meets study abroad with the learning focus on entrepreneurship. He can be found here or on his bike in the Hudson Valley.


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