Learning to Teach

There are times – generally 24-7 – when I struggle with being the ideal parent. I’m never satisfied that I’m doing a good job, but at least I’ve learned enough to keep my obsessive-ness to myself and away from my children as much as possible.

One of the things I’ve learned – in particular by reading Philip at Blue Sloth and recalling my days of teaching technology in the newsroom – is that incremental education seems to work best. What I have observed is this: when adults start something new, we learn a lot, amazingly fast or we fail to get it at all.

But those who “get it” quickly often fall into a few traps: 1. We decide the object of learning is too easy and become bored or cocky. 2. We become overconfident and stop trying as hard in subsequent lessons. 3. Students who are accustomed to easy learning sometimes give up when the subject matter gets more difficult and frustrating.

When students don’t get the subject material at all, the traps are even more ugly. 1. I’ve seen students get so frustrated or upset they can’t think. 2. Others give up because they erroneously judge themselves stupid.

In all the above traps, resistance to the activity builds. You have to really nudge the kids back onto the playing field or to pick up a drawing pencil again. (It’s even harder with adults.)

I’ve repeatedly seen this happen with my own kids. For example, neither kid liked to play catch much. When they were little, I would throw the ball gently to them. Their eyes would fail to track the object and would react with surprise when the ball hit and then bounced out of their arms.

Erroneously, I thought there was something wrong with my kids’ hand-eye coordination. Eventually it dawned on me that it takes a lot of TIME for children’s eyes to follow a moving object in three dimensions. (Actually four, when you consider time.)

If I had been smarter, I would have practiced with the kids just a few minutes each day to give their brains time to develop the necessary wiring. (They do play catch now, though we have a space problem in our back yard.)

Teaching incrementally has worked particularly well with swimming and tennis. In the case of swimming, I took the kids virtually every day last summer until they finally could swim under water with ease.

I’m finding that the same rule applies to teaching art, math, reading or cooking. Trying to teach a kid to be an athlete or artist in one big fell swoop just doesn’t work well! It takes day-to-day persistence.

As a result, I’m always trying to reorganize the way I do things. This is why I give Philip such credit: he throws the ball daily to the kids until they get really, really good; he keeps them doing art on a regular basis. I’ve never seen anyone understand the value of repetitive practice more than this man.

I’m more inconsistent, but I’m getting better. Seth has been regularly practicing golf, which he really likes, because I keep signing him up for it. Perhaps that’s why I watched him repeatedly hit the ball more than 100 yards at practice yesterday.

And I’ve learned that repetition – once you get through that initial resistance – can foster a love for an activity. At first Lael didn’t like tennis practice because she simply missed the ball now matter how perfectly I threw it. Now, because she can easily whack the ball, Lael demands to play every day! (Sadly, there are only so many hours in a day.)

I know there are parents out there who understand this instinctively, and I express my jealousy. But for those like me who are late to this game, it’s never too late to start an incremental education program, whether it be math, art or swimming. It works, and I suspect your kids will benefit hugely from the effort.

7 thoughts on “Learning to Teach

  1. Summer

    I’ll second you. Philip is the most amazing parent I’ve ever seen. He’s not always perfect – but what parent (or human) is – but he’s so consistent with the kids that I highly doubt his kids will ever remember the imperfect moments.
    Having him as my friend taught me how to be an fantastic parent, and I look forward to being one myself, in part because of him.
    You too, ya know? It’s good to know that we’re all learning together, and it’s a process. Thank goodness for blogging and the chance to share how we each live our lives – I learned so much. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *