I recently watched David Gelb’s 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (see the trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbV6knbeUFE ). The film focuses on Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. The restaurant is located in the basement of a subway station. It only seats 10 people. It has no bathroom. Despite all of this, reservations are required a month in advance, and a meal starts at about $300(US) a person.
The movie, like Jiro’s sushi, is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity. Slow motion images of sushi preparation are accompanied by Jiro’s japanese voiceover explaining the philosophy that has earned him the reputation as the world’s greatest sushi chef. As I watched the film and read the subtitles, I realized that his ideas are the same practices I see in some of the best educators in schools today. His nuggets of wisdom espouse the ideals that every teacher should apply in the practice and development of their own art.
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work.”
According to Jiro’s oldest son, Jiro is so immersed in his work that even dreams of sushi while he sleeps. Even when he isn’t in his restaurant, the chef is thinking about his craft. We don’t stop becoming teachers the moment we leave our schools. Education should constantly be at the forefront of our thoughts. Look around you right now. How can any of the items within 10 feet of you can be used in a lesson? How can an episode of your favorite TV show or a popular song be employed in a lesson? Just as Jiro has immersed himself in his work, you must think like a teacher 24/7, even over holidays and summer breaks.
“You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.”
What are you doing to master your skill? Professional development goes beyond the two or three days that you’re forced into it. How many teachers take classes simply to move up on the pay scale? How many teachers stop taking classes as soon as they’ve maxed out their credits? As teachers, we need to be life long learners. In order to master your skill, consider who (if anyone) is in your personal learning network. How many other teachers do you interact with outside of the school? Today, social networking makes this remarkably easy. Using facebook, Twitter, Google +, and other sites, you can connect with teachers all around the world. Rather than complaining about iPads and cell phones in your class, learn how other teachers are utilizing them as learning tools. For the past year, I’ve been involved in the Apple Distinguished Educator program. This led to speaking opportunities at conferences and the chance to share what I’m doing with the rest of the teaching community. Inevitably, fellow teachers will ask me, “do you get paid for that?” Not one penny. That’s not why I do it. I do it because I love interacting with other teachers that think the way that I do, and that see new technologies as tools that supplement good teaching. Working with fellow ADEs is a path for mastering my skills as a teacher.
“Even at my age, in my work… I haven’t reached perfection.”
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been teaching for two years or twenty years, there is always room for growth. Too many teachers reach a state of stasis and they become complacent. They’ve been doing things the same way for years, why change now? The goal isn’t to become a perfect teacher, that will never happen. The goal should be to constantly work on becoming a perfect teacher, even if thats never actually possible. In other words, its about the journey, not the destination. We’ve all seen teachers that get tenure and then cruise for the rest of their career. In contrast, I’ve seen teachers only a few years away from retirement, and like Jiro, are reflective and constantly saying, “how can I teach this lesson better?” When a new piece of technology is introduced into your classroom, do you embrace it or reject it? If you choose to reject it, is it because you’re uncomfortable with change?
“You have to fall in love with your job”
This is the most important lesson a teacher can take away from Jiro Ono. Ask yourself this question: why did you become a teacher? If the answer has anything to do with long vacations, job security, or a pension, you’re in the wrong profession. Get out. I became a teacher because I love teaching. Prior to teaching, I spent 10 years in a career that I hated. I made a lot more money and travelled to glamorous and exotic places. I was miserable. I hated what I was doing. Now, I make a fraction of my old salary and I’m much happier. True happiness doesn’t come from money, it comes from the satisfaction of loving what you do each and every day.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here. Almost everything that Jiro says in this film can be applied to your skills as a teacher. Please see this movie before you return to classes at the end of this month. Try to apply some of Jiro’s principles in the practice of your craft. I think many of the problems in our educational system could be reduced or eliminated if more teachers approached their work the same way Jiro Ono approaches his.