Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Teaching

Pixie Mama wrote something today that struck so close to home I feel inspired to use this brief respite (the kids went for a ride with daddy) to blog instead of doing the other hundred things I claimed I was going to do. 

Pixie Mama said, "I can't remember a time where I actually felt qualified to raise my own children. More often, I feel seriously under qualified." Me, too, Pixie Mama! Now, neither Pixie Mama nor I have degrees in special ed, neurology, psychology, or any other -ologies. But I do have a fair share of teaching credentials, and a Master's in Education, and I am starting to think I could teach a few -ists a thing or two. 

Before I hand out my wisdom, let me say too that my family has some absolutely wonderful helpers in our lives. I am grateful to every resource who has helped us learn and grow, and I always make that clear to them. But, like Pixie Mama, we've had our share of false prophets, too. 

So, inspired by Pixie Mama, here are five things I have learned from teaching -- things that I wish more experts in many fields knew:

A child is an entire person, and you can't help part of my child if you forget about all the rest of him. Notice that if I teach your daughter literature, I don't tell you that her emotional well being, her vision problem, her math giftedness, her passion for violin, her chicken pox, your divorce, or her stutter are not my department. Nope, teachers care about all of that, care about your child as a whole package, see everything as relevant, incorporate it all into the process, because the process isn't really about LITERATURE, the process is about LEARNING. 

Giving directions or instructions is not the same thing as teaching. If you want to teach a person something, that means monitoring for understanding, readjusting as needed, welcoming exploration, and taking in to account the learner's needs. This is particularly true when you are dealing with grownups, and those of us with special needs kids sometimes have full, weary, aging brains. If you care that we get what you're saying, you might have to do more than talk; Notice that when we have a parent-teacher conference, I ask you about how things are going at home. I don't just launch in to a list of my expert insights into what you and your kid ought to be doing better and how I think it ought to be done. Giving directions or instructions is a one way street that might or might lead to a destination, but teaching is an infinite circle of possibilities. 

Kids don't have one way of behaving that never changes no matter where they go. If your son shows tremendous independence and initiative when he comes to my computer lesson, I don't assume that my four and a half hours with him in a week represent his entire personality, or that he dives in every pool without any support. When you tell me that the boy you've raised for many years actually tends to operate cautiously in your experience, I assume you know things about your child that I don't. I set out to teach the whole child, but I recognize that I only get a narrow slice of his or her time, and I can't become all-knowing in a semester. 

As a teacher, I view myself as part of a team. My teammates include my students, their families, their other teachers, and the administrators. We all have the same goal. We are not in competition with each other. If the kids succeed, we all win. If the kids struggles, we all need to pull together more. Key word: together. 

Finally, there is more to life than just what I teach. Whether I'm teaching writing, math, computers, or anything else, it isn't the be all, end all, start and finish of the universe. Sure, those subjects matter, but so does family time, so does rest, so does joy. Homework can be valuable; so can homeplay. (How cool is it when they both seem like the same thing?) I might not actually have had this realization from teaching. This one I think I learned from parenting, but I will not forget it ever again as an educator. I don't want every moment I spend with my child to feel like a therapy session that never ends. Sometimes  I just want to be a family. 

Since being a teacher has helped me parent, and being a parent has made me a better teacher, maybe it's no wonder I've come to prefer -ists who have kids of their own. Similarly, I've sought as friends people who know how to teach me things.  Like Pixie Mama, who is eminently qualified. 


pixiemama said...

Have I mentioned lately that I'm glad you're back? It was a long month without you!

It was not until I realized that Reilly wasn't really ready for Kindergarten at age 5 that I really wished I had learned more about kids BEFORE I had them. I was suddenly keenly aware that while I had the good-snuggle-and-a-book thing nailed, and the let's-go-look-at-bugs-and-mud thing under control, I didn't know a single thing about academics. I was a good student, and thought that made me smart enough. Ha!

Thanks for the props. When I wrote my post, I was looking to do a little damage control for the previous post, which was, shall we say, snarky? We live in such a rural area that many of our "experts" and "specialists" think all parents are uneducated or are looking for someone to do the hard work of parenting.

Niksmom said...

Holy cow, this is freaking AWESOME! I wish every "ist" had to read this before they were allowed to get their license!

pixiemama said...

I would have asked to add you to the list of people I would like to raise our kids should we expire, but I know how little sleep you get. Our kids would not help that situation. But Peaches and Sophie would probably have a blast.

Anonymous said...

An awesome list! I've always said (well, since I had my son) that teachers should have to be mothers/fathers BEFORE they teach. They need to be able to see these kids as someone's child. I was educated as a teacher (I taught for only a short time, as I realized I didn't actually LIKE other people's kids enough), and I think that now I'm a parent, I would be a completely different teacher. Waaaaay better.

Great list!