UnknownA word frequent bandied about in education today, especially as it pertains to a measurement of whether or not students have “learned” is the word “mastery”. According to the experts, learning has occurred when students can demonstrate mastery, and more often than not, the so-called experts expect to witness that “mastery” at the end of one lesson!!

Before we go any further, we need to take three things into account:

  • The definition of mastery
  • The fact that very few, if any, people will demonstrate mastery in everything
  • The fact that mastery, by the very definition of the word, takes time, (and most certainly more than one class).

I am always frustrated and angered when people just “throw words around “without any understanding of what the words actually mean. This is especially true when the people misusing them are so called “experts”, the people I’m supposed to follow. These people misinform students who, as a result, often use that information to define themselves as “stupid” or not as smart as others. The reality is the meaning of Mastery they are given is so inaccurate, how they see themselves is equally inaccurate.

The dictionary definition of mastery is “supremacy, superiority, proficiency.” None of these words can be accomplished in one class period or in one day. Each word asserts it will take some time to reach the levels they each represent. No one reaches supremacy or superiority over night; no one becomes proficient after one or two tries. The simple fact of the matter is not everyone will achieve superiority or supremacy. Look at Michael Jordan. Jordan was cut from his JV basketball team yet went on to become undoubtedly superior on the basketball court. No matter what area you look at, some people will not reach those levels. Look at the halls of fame, presidents of the United States; great teachers-most don’t reach those levels, and those that do work hard over along period of time.

If I am the “master teacher” people say I am, I certainly didn’t reach that level the first year I taught in 1974, or the third year in 1977. In fact, I can’t even remember what happened the first time I walked into a classroom in October 1974, but I know I wasn’t anywhere close to where I am now!! It took years for me to develop and hone the skills and abilities needed to create a “master teacher.”

To demand students reach mastery in one lesson is ludicrously inane. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to reach the level of mastery. My friends: that is a very, very long time. Even if Gladwell is off by 5,000 hours or 6,000 hours, you are still talking about a very long time and most certainly, you are proving that those who throw the word mastery around so loosely and easily, have little or no concept of what they are saying or the misinformation they are spreading and espousing.

Mastery is certainly an impressive and powerful concept, and it is an even more powerful concept when you truly understand what the word mastery means.

Maybe now would be a good time to start using the word correctly. What do you think?