Today, as I was reading aloud from an old classic, I found a note I must have written at least 10 years ago the first time I read this book aloud to the older children.
It said simply: “uncomfortable teacher, uncooperative student.”
I have no idea what context surrounded that statement or how it ended up in the margin of a read-aloud from my sons’ elementary days. However, even out of context, it is a powerful statement and one we should ponder as homeschool teachers. If we are not comfortable with our curriculum, subject material or schedule, our children sense it and balk at the learning process.
In a way, teaching is like riding – if the horse ever senses you are uneasy he’ll balk at the task you ask him to do. The surest way to get thrown is to act frightened or uncertain of your ability to guide him. All animals are this way – they react to your emotions in the interaction.
Children too sense our confidence or uneasiness and react to it. If we are uncertain of the approach we’re taking to discipline or teaching they will balk, whine and find more ways to be uncooperative than we have ever imagined. Even if they co-operate, their learning can be compromised because they don’t invest cognitively in the process – why should they invest themselves if their teacher doesn’t seem convinced it is important or understandable? No one will follow a hesitant leader. The leader’s ability to push on inspires the followers to push on too.
Our uneasiness can come from a lack of confidence in our own ability – we aren’t sure we really know what we are doing with science, phonics or whatever, so our hesitancy is communicated to our children and suddenly they aren’t so sure they even want to do science, phonics or whatever. In that instance, we need to educate ourselves about what to teach and how to teach it and “just do it!” Confidence follows practice – you’ll get the hang of teaching reading or fractions only after you have done it for while. Read a book on teaching, ask several people how they approach the situation, pray for direction and then dive in.
Sometimes you just have to “fake it till you make it” as the saying goes and act more confident than you feel. In my first year of teaching high school, I didn’t look much older than my senior students. In study hall I seemed to have all the football players who towered over my by several inches. I instinctively realized that I couldn’t let them know I wasn’t sure they would actually follow my directions and do their math in study hall (never let them see you sweat!). I had to act secure (and have a good set of consequences to enforce!). By the same token, if our children aren’t following our schedule or directions it could be because we haven’t established the confidence that comes from good habits of discipline.
If a lack of confidence comes from discomfort with the curriculum, you can always change. The caution here is not to make change the one constant in the homeschool experience. When no curriculum seems “right”, just pick one you can work with and go with it. Spelling curriculum comes to mind here. I am not convinced that there is a spelling curriculum that would have made a significant impact in my son’s elementary years. Rather than changing every year, I should have just picked one that was easy for me to follow and done it consistently. Consistency in simple, even imperfect teaching techniques often yields better results than sporadic perfection. Know your own personality and limitations when it comes to improvisation in your homeschool.
Uncomfortable teacher = uncooperative student. I’m going to write that somewhere I’ll see it more often than every 10 years!