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Streamlining Teaching Prep

mise en placeThere are many different metaphors that educators use to describe the work we do as teachers. Over the years, I’ve found sports coach, dinner party host, and mountaineering guide to be particularly helpful metaphors for conceptualizing my role as a teacher and the kinds of responsibilities it entails.

But until recently, I’d never given much thought to my teaching preparation as itself something that could be expressed and perhaps better understood through a metaphor.

Professional cooks — and amateurs who prepare things far more complicated than what I typically cook  — rely upon a set-up process called mise en place to make things go smoothly in the kitchen. For the mise en place, ingredients are washed, chopped, measured, and sometimes soaked or pre-cooked, depending on the dish. All the necessary tools and equipment are gathered and made ready for the chef.

The mise en place functions as a kind of checklist to ensure that all necessary ingredients are on hand, and also as a division of labor so that the chef won’t be distracted from her artistry by chopping onions. Even when you’re cooking solo, such division of labor usefully separates the menial tasks from the more complex or creative ones.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun to think about how the mise en place serves me as a useful metaphor for my teaching preparation. There are always ideas, resources, images, and materials to gather. Some of them need to be edited or modified in certain ways before they can be directly used in teaching. And making sure that I have the necessary tools on hand, whether that’s a dictionary, screenshot software, or a specialized bibliography, simplifies preparation time.

Depending on the course, the cooking in this metaphor might be the writing of a lecture with accompanying presentation slides, or it might be the teaching itself in a discussion-based class. Either way, thinking creatively about the different stages of teaching preparation through the metaphor of the mise en place has helped me to make good use of small amounts of time and has re-energized my approach to sometimes routine tasks.

What metaphor do you use to think about teaching preparation? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user wickenden ]

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