How being a ‘student’ can help you to make better choices as a ‘teacher’

As a homeschooling parent, I spend a lot of time in the role of a ‘teacher’. A few years ago, my daughter began to feel somewhat overwhelmed by her schoolwork (when she was 9 years old) and I was faced with a challenging choice: to carry on teaching her the amount of schoolwork I thought I had to, or to lighten the workload. It was a very difficult decision – I want the very best for my daughter and I would feel terrible if I let her down or didn’t do enough. Parents are well aware that there is no Going Back! What’s done is done, and while we can ‘make repairs’ and heal wounds, of course, it is easier to ‘get it right’ as often as possible.

To try to gain a different perspective, and to ‘change my mind’, I decided to become a ‘student’ for a change. It struck me that maybe I was fired up about her schoolwork because I wanted to learn. Maybe I wanted her to enjoy her education because I wanted to enjoy my education. I bought myself a ‘Teach Yourself Hindi’ book and CD set and tried, for the first time in many years, to learn something completely new. Of course, every day as a parent I learn something new – but those new things are real life lessons, emotional responsibilities, and so forth. What I needed was to learn something that did not apply directly to daily life, something more ‘in my head’ and – in a way – irrelevant or ‘extra’. And – hurrah! – the experiment bore fruit!

While teaching my daughter, I had forgotten how much work it is to learn something truly new and different. For example, when I picked a new book for her, I was looking at it through the eyes of an adult. It was a new story, but I had forgotten that for her, it was so much more than that. The characters were new people in her young life. The events were not things that had happened before and were now being revisited in a story – they were completely new concepts. For example, reading a book about pirates, for me, would not be a totally new experience. I already know what pirates are, how they are generally portrayed historically, the kind of humour and clothing and lawlessness their characters have, and so on. But for my daughter, each one of these elements was brand new, in addition to the plot.

It was important for me, as a homeschooling parent, to learn something that I knew absolutely nothing about, so that I could remember what it is like to be taking in and digesting totally new information every day. It’s a lot of work. It takes longer than you might remember. And it requires a significant amount of time to digest – repeatedly practising a new skill or reviewing new ideas and information is absolutely essential. Actually doing the work of learning reminded me what it’s like to be on the other end of the stick, as it were. To be the batter instead of the spoon (!). It helped me to understand my daughter’s feelings, and triggered some uncomfortable memories and emotions of my own. Happily, clearing all that baggage out made room for more happy moments and days. I could ‘be right’ about how I learn in my little corner, and be ‘out of the way’ when it came to guiding my daughter.

In short, I can recommend nothing better for a homeschooling parent than to take some of your school day to be a student yourself. The experiment only requires 10 or 20 minutes, maybe while your child or children are doing some assigned work or taking a rest. Too tired? Force yourself anyway – and remember that feeling the next time your youngster also feels too tired to finish a task or ingest more information! Don’t worry if you don’t make much progress either . . . five chapters of Hindi in about as many years is the Grand Result of my efforts! The goal is to change your perspective and gain insights.

For the best results, learn something that requires a consistent ingestion of totally new information, and for which the instructions come from outside (in other words, not something that is self-directed) such as a new language (for a bigger challenge, try one with a different alphabet), a new type of exercise (Tai Chi, Dance or Pilates – something with very different movements from walking or running), drawing using a guided method (such as ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards), or how to play a musical instrument.

And remember that while you already know how to learn, your child is learning that as well!

Teach Yourself Hindi (by the perpetually cheerful Rupert Snell 🙂 )

(This is not a product endorsement, just an enthusiastic reference!)

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