I am not a fan of jigsaw puzzles. My three-year-old daughter is. Over the past year we have spent many hours completing them. I love watching her reasoning. The methodology she chooses is the complete opposite of mine. Instead of working from the outside-in, she starts inside and works her way out, often beginning with the faces of the “beings” in the puzzle. There are times where she gets frustrated and asks for my help. This is amusing because she is better at puzzles than I am. I try to pose questions to get her to find what step to take next. Sometimes it works and we proceed, other times she hits her frustration tolerance and we transition to doing something else (typically involving movement).
During our most recent session, I wondered why I do not enjoy jigsaw puzzles. I am an extremely patient person. I love creating order out of chaos. I feel these would be ideal characteristics that the problem solving component of putting together a puzzle requires. Then I had an epiphany. I do not like jigsaw puzzles because I find them boring.
For 15 years, I have been exposed to the most complex puzzle in existence – teaching. I also have nearly 30 seasons of coaching high school athletics under my belt. As all coaches know, coaching is teaching. Whether it is in the classroom or on the field of play, the number of decisions that are made based on observation are uncountable. The puzzle pieces involved in teaching and coaching are constantly changing. These changes can be anywhere from year-to-year to second-to-second. What a vibrant medium we get to work with each day! When compared to the puzzle of teaching, a jigsaw puzzle is like looking at pictures of the Grand Canyon versus actually being at the Grand Canyon. In my eyes, there really is no comparison.
I look forward to the next time my daughter wants to do a puzzle. Even though I do not enjoy them, I do enjoy providing an atmosphere which allows her to think. Although it is difficult at times, I always resist the temptation to spoon-feed the solution. I enjoy the puzzle of teaching her how to complete the puzzle. John Wooden said it best:
“I learned to focus on studying people, especially young people. I study the way they react, the way they are motivated, the way they are frustrated, and the way they work. This will help me discover the way they learn, and when I discover that, I’m halfway there.” 
In my opinion, the other half is determining the best way for the teacher to become obsolete. There is no better evidence of great teaching then when the student no longer needs the teacher.
Rob Assise is in his 15th year teaching mathematics and coaching track and field at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He also has experience coaching football and cross country. Additional writing of his can be found at Simplifaster, Just Fly Sports, and Track Football Consortium. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HFJumps.
- Gallimore, Ronald. “What John Wooden Can Teach Us.” Education Week. February 28, 2006. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2006/03/01/25gallimore.h25.html