DMing is Like Teaching: How Skilled Are You?

One of the things I learned way back when I was a baby teacher was about the level of skill exhibited by a teacher.   There are four levels of skill that one passes through as you grow into your career:

  1. Unconsciously Unskilled
  2. Consciously Unskilled
  3. Consciously Skilled
  4. Unconsciously Skilled

These totally transfer into any type of activity one learns how to do.  I’m going to compare them to two of my hobbies – swing dancing and DMing.

Unconsciously Unskilled (UU)

“I don’t know what I don’t know.”

Teacher:  The UU has just stepped foot in the classroom.  His head is full of theory, but he’s had little or no chance to practice.  He has a lesson plan and barrels through it and will call on the same kid again again because he knows the answers and has his hand up first.

Swing Dancer: The UU has no idea how to dance, but she’ll give it a shot.  She finds a good lead who will pull her through a few moves.  She thinks she’s doing pretty well for a first time out, but if she ever saw a video of herself, she’d die of embarrassment.

DM:  The UU sits behind the screen, opens the module, and attempts to wing it, figuring that the module will explain everything he needs to know.  He hasn’t thought to prepare for anything else – after all, isn’t that what a module is for?

Consciously Unskilled (CU)

“I am just starting to understand just how much I don’t know.”

Teacher:  The CU has been teaching for about a year.  She has had a chance to test out lots of different ways to manage her classroom and present her lessons.  She is pretty sure she knows what doesn’t work, but is realizing that she doesn’t always know what does work.

Swing Dancer: The CU knows the basic footwork of the dance and a few turns and moves.  However, when she dances with a more experienced lead who knows other moves, she is lost on how to follow them because they don’t fit into the framework of what she has memorized as far as footwork.

DM: The CU has run a few sessions and is starting to realize that there are gaps in her knowledge.   While she’s pretty adept at handling some situations, others leave her baffled and flipping through the DMG or PHB for answers.

Consciously Skilled (CS)

“I know what to do and have a plan on how to do it.”

Teacher: The CS has been teaching for a few years.   She has a list of proven methods and a file full of great lesson plans.   Her students achieve success and the few that don’t succeed do so only after she’s tried every trick in the book to reach them.   She knows her stuff and practices it every day.

Swing Dancer: The CS has taken a lot of classes and workshops and has a working knowledge of just about every move possible on the social dance floor.  She’s known around the dance scene as a good follow with excellent technique.

DM: The CS knows his stuff backwards and forwards, and if he’s unsure, he knows exactly what page to reference to double-check.  He’s memorized the stat blocks of all the monsters he plans on throwing at the PCs and sometimes knows the PCs stats better than they do.  His games run as smooth as silk, without a single speedbump.

Unconsciously Skilled (US)

“I could do this in my sleep and still be the best!”

Teacher: The US has been teaching for several years, if not decades.  He is a master of child/adolescent psychology, a guru in his subject area, and an icon among his colleagues.  He knows his craft so well that he barely even needs five minutes to prepare for each class.   He is able to switch gears mid-lesson if it’s clear that the students need a different approach to a topic and there is no such thing as an unexpected turn of events in his classroom.  He’s seen it all, done it all, and knows it all.

Swing Dancer: To the US, dancing is as easy as breathing.  The music flows through her and she has such a great connection with her partners that she is able to follow anything.   If she makes mistakes, you’d never know because she improvises with such grace.  She can make a good lead look great and a bad lead look competent without even trying.  She’s such a good follow that she can hop in to just about any style of dance and be able to wing it passably.

DM: The US DM is able to deal with anything and everything thrown his way.  If the players roll a natural 20 and totally bluff an NPC that was supposed to be an important part of the plotline, it’s no biggie.  He is such a good storyteller that he already has a plan on how to adjust the story to the new track it’s on.  Who needs a module when you have a fanastical brain?

How About You?

Post below and let us know what level of DM you are.  Not a DM?  Tell us about your DM!

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About e

Since 2008, E. Foley of Geek’s Dream Girl has been helping geeks from around the world find love. She writes amazing online dating profiles for her fellow geeks and guides them through the perilous waters of the dating scene and out the other side. She's totally proud to report that she's even caused a couple geek weddings! She lives in Maryland with DaveTheGame, her adorable cats, Mr. Peanut & Don Juan, and Titania, Queen of the Cocker Spaniels. (Email e, or follow @geeksdreamgirl on Twitter.)

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