Things I’ve Learned about Teaching

I often get the question, “How do you do it?” referring to the fact that my children are homeschooled.  I tend to shrug it off with something like, “Oh, if I can do it, anyone can do it,” or “Oh, I don’t know if I’m really doing that great of a job.” While these are true statements, they’ve come to be more telling of where I was in the beginning and don’t hold much weight now.  I might have a bit more to say, about learning at home or elsewhere, after what I’ve learned so far along the way.  

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The first thing I did not know in the beginning was that teaching is not always the same as telling.  I told my first student in the ranks what she was supposed to know.  She rarely caught on quickly and I worried about a learning disability.  Through trial and error and trying to understand how to teach, I’ve learned everyone truly does learn differently.  Much of my teaching has become showing, not just telling.  

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I learned that repetition is normal and necessary.  I am not alone in feeling the frustration of repeating yet another time, for example, that “The number on the bottom of the fraction is the DENOMINATOR for crying out loud!”  Somehow, through this journey of becoming a teacher, I realized this wasn’t much different than the sometimes frustrating, but mostly enjoyable, process of learning to get pizza dough to turn out right.  It’s about repetition.  Seeing it, feeling it, and then knowing when it’s right.  

I began homeschooling with the notion that the goal was results.  I now believe that without relationship, you rarely get results.  The eyes will tell how the relationship is going, with you and with learning.  Are their eyes glazed over?  Am I rolling mine?  The relationship is not healthy when I do; I’m looking for results.  The eyes are the lamp of the body, a window to the soul.  Watch them.  

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Together

It’s about the process and learning together. Since when was it not? From the first day in the hospital, she knew physically how to eat. I, on the other hand, had to learn the best way to get that to happen without too much pain. With each successive child, the experience has been different and I have always been a co-learner. It’s the same with teaching them reading or multiplication. I’ve had to go on a hunt for ways to impart the wonders of the created order.

Vision is essential.  What do you want for your child when they are 20, 40 or even 70?  What do you want her to know about relationships and living?  What do you want to instill in his character?  Will she know how to talk to someone who has hurt her feelings?  Look to others’ interests and not only talk about herself?  Will he know God and His joy?  Thinking far down the line can help you decide what to focus on now when they are 6, 8, or 10.  You need some idea of where you are going, but don’t get lost way down there.  Yes, vision is essential, but so is right now. . .

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Remember when they kept waking in the night?  Wouldn’t potty train fast enough?  You wondered if they would wear diapers in 6th grade.  Would they want to sleep in your bed through college? (Which I probably wouldn’t mind!)  You know it was ridiculous.  It still is now, if they’re struggling with their times tables, to think they always will.  Relax.  Keep at it.  They’re 8 only once and real success in anything never happens overnight. 

So how do I do it?   

My goals now are opposite of what they used to be.  Telling my kids what to know has become a desire to growas a teacher that is able to show them wonders.  

The results I was looking for will probably still come, but the relationship my kids have with me, with the world they’re observing, and with the God who made it all is at the forefront of my mind.  

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My vision is reigned in as I remember my children are still children.  They are not at an age to be masters of much, but wonderers.  They are being exposed to how the world was and is and is to come.  

I don’t believe educating my little ones has anything to do with checking boxes, clocking in hours, or determining their skills based on their birthday.  Nor that learning only happens between certain hours of the day and when one sits with pages of text and worksheets.  That mindset only brought me anxiety and answers that kept my eyes looking down when asked how things were going.   

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Do I think I’ve got it all figured out?  By no means!  But by now I no longer feel the pressure of thinking I should.  I have no intentions of them leaving the nest fully “educated,” all “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, like a brand new computer fresh off a conveyor belt, nicely packaged and ready for use in the “real” world.  Rather, I envision them leaving equipped to never stop learning.  No matter where your kids are schooled, I believe you can have the same goal.  

My Unprofessional Mother

In light of Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day, I’m kicking off a 4-part series with thoughts I’ve gathered on teaching with some reflections about my first teacher. . .

Being a mom wasn’t a selection at the career fairs, but as long as I can remember, that was the one I chose. It may seem puzzling why I would have wanted such a “career”,  but to me it was obvious.  The most vivid, happy memories I have as a child were before the age of 5, before going off to school.

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I was often on the counter, directly next to the mixer which spinned some kind of dough or batter.   My mother was doing what she loved and we were together in it.  With 3 children underfoot, she managed to have a small business making cakes for any occasion: birthdays, graduations, even weddings.  Occasionally I went along to watch her carefully deliver and assemble wedding cakes.  The ones with fountains inside were my favorites.  There were flops and fizzles and along the way and I was there through it all, watching my mother make the world delicious.  

She taught what she knew with gentleness and generosity.  She was an excellent rocker, swaying us to a place of comfort and singing the songs we loved to hear over and over, how she would “buy the blazing sun,” and we believed her.  She bought that sun everyday as she sacrificed her time and talents to invest in our little hearts.  By the time the 4th baby joined us, the cakes had to wait.  

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Soon my time with her shrunk, off at school 30+ hours a week.  I missed her dearly.  Being the oldest to hobble out of the nest, I tried a couple of times to run back and stay forever, but our old, orange truck delivered me to my required place.  

Though I was older and no longer rocked or sat on the counter tasting cookies, I woke in the mornings to the glow of the light over the stove and her pouring over her Bible, educating herself in supernatural words.  She may not have felt at ease, as now a mother I know how feeling at ease can slip away, but she seemed at ease to me.  She had her moments of explosion, but they didn’t define her character.  She was kindness and love to me.  

You may have seen the poster that says, “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  In a sense, all I ever needed to know, I learned before that.  I learned, at the side of my mother, to teach what I know and seek out what I don’t.  Until I found myself 30 years later reading a brilliant book about education, I didn’t realize.  

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I’ve noticed I no longer cower in my heart when asked where my children go to school.  Not because I think homeschool is the answer for everyone, but because I realize my deepest education was given me before the age of 5, by my unprofessional mother.  

When I watch my favorite little hands measure vanilla or chocolate chips, I feel alive and thankful.  I’m thankful for what my mother may or may not have known when those were my hands pouring and spilling.  She was teaching generations beyond her small kitchen; a legacy, I pray, will live beyond her time and mine.  

Happy Mother’s Day Mommy!