From the Teacher’s Desk

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The 10,000 hour rule

I’m reading an interesting book this week called ‘Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell’. In the second section of his book the author talks about the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’.


I’m reading an interesting book this week called ‘Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell’. In the second section of his book the author talks about the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’.

This rule basically states in order to achieve success at a high level in any endeavour, be it music, chess or computer programming, it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice in the chosen field.

To prove his point, Mr. Gladwell weaves in the stories of some prominent people – Mozart, Bobby Fischer (the chess grandmaster), and Bill Gates.

After I read these stories about the 10,000 hour rule, I started thinking about the field of education. Let’s crunch the numbers.

If a beginning teacher spends, on average, four hours per day teaching, that would equal 720 hours over a school year of, let’s say, 180 days. In order to get to the 10,000 hour threshold, it would take approximately 14 years of teaching.

Wow! That’s about halfway through a 30-year teaching career. Interesting, isn’t it?

This is my 27th year as a teacher. When I think about it, the above author’s theory resonates with me.

After about 15 years in the classroom (okay, it took me a little longer!), I started to get more of a comfort level with the nuances of the craft.

By that I mean I was becoming more adept at things like drawing up succinct lesson plans, composing various types of assessment that matched curriculum objectives, and understanding how the recent research (of a dozen years or so ago) around concepts like multiple intelligences and differentiated learning could help me better relate to the students in front of me. With that decade and a half of education behind me, I’ve found the last 10 years of my career to be a period of heightened confidence in my abilities as an educator.

During those first 10,000 hours as a teacher, the learning curve was great. Did I make a few mistakes? You bet.

Was I grateful for the positive role models of more experienced teachers in the schools where I worked? Yes, absolutely.

In those first 14 or so years I just wanted to absorb as much as I could about how to improve my skills (not only as a teacher, but as a person) so I could be of greater benefit to the students I taught.

Karl Menninger once said “What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.”

The average teacher explains complexity; the gifted teacher reveals simplicity. – Robert Brault

Over the past 10-12 years I’ve come to a more mature understanding of the wisdom of Menninger’s words. Today I’m more excited than ever to be involved in the teaching profession.

There are so many resources available now that can shorten the learning curve for new teachers. My best recommendation for any teacher, new or not so new, would be to take advantage of the power of ‘Twitter’ to help build his or her own personal learning network (PLN).

Just imagine – as part of my professional growth plan for this year, one of my goals is to increase my PLN through Twitter.

Whenever I sit back and think about the importance of my job as a teacher, I’m humbled. That sense of humility was brought home to me recently.

Just the other day (Nov. 10) I was in Calgary teaching a CPR course to a group of Grade 10 students who needed this component as part of their Phys Ed course. During a break in the four hour session, a parent of one of the students came up to me and commented on my teaching style and the course in general.

His comment was such he felt, from the way I was relating to my students, I demonstrated a strong sense of caring for the students.

Later that same evening, when I reflected on the compliment I had received, I felt a keen sense of gratification. Yes, I was grateful to be on the receiving end of such an edifying remark, but even more than that I was grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to be mentored by great teachers I’ve met in person or through some powerful books I’ve read.

The Bhagavad-Gita states: ‘You have control over your work alone, never the fruit’.

As a teacher you can never be sure of the results of the work you do with your students. The fruits of your labour may not be visible until years later.

But one of the inherent joys of the craft is to be able to stay in the mode of a learner yourself, so your value in the classroom can become of inestimable worth.

Leonard Quilty is a teacher with the Center for Learning@Home in Okotoks, Alberta. He can be reached by e-mail at ‘’ or follow him on ‘Twitter @leonardquilty’.

Organizations: Center for Learning

Geographic location: Calgary, Okotoks, Alberta

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