When Jeremy MacDonald and I discussed blogging about what we have learned from our kids, the first assumption was that we’d be writing about our students. This is something teachers have to deal with constantly… differentiating between which ‘my kids’ we are talking about at any particular time! I’ve just spent two weeks in Ecuador visiting my daughter and am currently in Boston, visiting my son and daughter-in-law. It seems like a good time to re-post this description of some of the things I learned about teaching and learning from my own children. It was first posted at Jeremy’s blog @MrMacnology a few months ago…
My son Adrian was the first person I heard coin the phrase ‘Guess what’s in the teacher’s head’. It’s the common practice teachers have of asking a question, with a specific answer in mind, and waiting for that answer. He said it was a game he didn’t want to play! It taught me to be open to all kinds of student thinking and to validate every student’s response. I learned to ask questions beginning with ‘What do you think..’ and stress that every answer was therefore acceptable.
He once came home exclaiming how kind a certain teacher was and how much he liked her. At a time when many middle school teachers were making demands and punishing students for not being sufficiently organized, this teacher had kept a student back after class for not doing his homework, and spent the time helping him organize his folders. I remember thinking how sad it was that my son found this unusual. It made me aware of the importance of treating my students as fellow human beings first, offering them help rather than chastising them for their shortcomings. I learned that treating my students with respect was a sure way to get the same in return.
My daughter Mazz is smart and talented, but school was not ‘her thing’. She was always an indiviual and the school ‘system’ didn’t suit the way she learned. There were times when she thought she was the problem. I learned that one size does not fit all in education. If a student doesn’t learn from the way I teach, I need to change the way I teach and not the other way around. I learned to provide different kinds of opportunities so that every student could maximise their learning, irrespective of the expectations that school has for every child to ‘fit in’.
In a pottery class, the students were once told to make a yellow sunflower. When Mazz, a creative child with her own ideas, said she would rather make something different, the teacher made her sit outside. It increased my awareness of the fact that students should own their learning, not the teacher. I learned the importance of allowing students choice in the way they express their learning. I learned to value creativity and initiative above compliance in my students.
One of Adrian’s teachers once informed me that while he was getting B’s, she knew and he knew that with more effort, he was perfectly capable of getting A’s. His response? ‘If I know that I am capable of an A, and she knows that I am capable of an A, why bother to put in the effort?’ I learned that letter or number grades tell you absolutely nothing about students’ abilities and even less about learning! And I realized that grades themselves do not necessarily motivate learners.
When Mazz studied theatre in her final years at school, she had a wonderful teacher who unfailingly encouraged and supported her. He gave her the biggest gift a teacher can give. By believing in her, he gave her the courage to believe in herself. She’s been out of school for 7 years and still keeps in touch with him. It reinforced my belief that students will reach their potential if you have high expectations of them. It reminded me to focus on what my students can do, not on what they can’t. It taught me how important it is for students to know you believe in them.
My kids are in their 20’s now. Both care about the world they live in enough to spend extended periods of time volunteering in developing countries. My son and his wife spent last year in India, working with Navsarjan, an organisation that promotes the rights of the untouchable castes. My daughter is in Ecuador, coordinating volunteers and working with kids at an interactive children’s library which promotes literacy and the arts. It’s made us aware that my husband and I have a great deal to be proud of and also so much to share. We might like to do our own stint of volunteering in the future.