I have always known I would be a teacher. I remember lining up my dolls and stuffed animals as a child and diligently teaching them their ABCs every Saturday. While others worried about their career paths, I had an inner calm already knowing my purpose. And I was right. Twenty years out of college I can look back and see the many students whose lives I touched. More importantly, so many of them touched me. I have worked with infants through college, Deaf Education, Special Education, and Regular Education. I have had students that are adults now find me on Facebook and tell me how much I helped them. Several have become teachers themselves and give me some credit for making that decision. And yet…
Without a doubt the students I loved teaching the most are my own twin daughters, now age 19. They are one week from graduating high school and I couldn’t be more proud. They both have learning disabilities, so school was a long hard battle for them as well as me. Their first grade teacher said Megan and Katie needed to repeat that grade, so they did. With me. I homeschooled them to the dismay of several public school teacher friends. We did not follow the typical public or private school curriculum. I saw how they learned. I knew where the gaps were and decided to focus on that alone. We did reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic, with an emphasis on reading. By the end of the semester, Megan, who entered homeschool as a non-reader, was now reading on a second grade level. We had gained two and a half years in one semester. Talk about miracles!
The next time we decided to homeschool was during the terrifying Middle School years. I took a break from teaching other students to focus on my own. We had the joy of homeschooling 6th – 8th grades. There were many reasons behind this, but the main one was we wanted to draw them closer to our family unit. This is such a risky time when so many choices have life-long consequences, either good or bad. My daughter Katie has since come to me and admitted that if we had not homeschooled her during middle school, we might very well had lost her. She has already declared that she will be doing the same when she has children of her own.
While homeschooling my own children, I pulled so much information from my training and experience as a professional teacher. I have been on both sides of the tracks. I fully support any family that wants to homeschool their children. Just as I heard dismay from public school teachers when I let them know of my plans to teach at home, I saw the wringing hands of homeschool families when we decided to put them back in public school. I have never understood why there are opposite “camps” on this issue. I think that at times there can be a benefit to both sides. As a professional teacher I have had the opportunity to try new things with a variety of students and happily tuck away the successful ones for future use. Here are a few ideas I have used when my students are struggling.
1. One of the most difficult skills a good teacher MUST learn to do is break down information into smaller bites. WE know the information already, but our children do not. Think from the child’s perspective. Break the information down into small steps. Do not go to step two until they understand step one. This takes a lot more time, but it is so worth it in the end.
2. Don’t be afraid of silence. When you ask your child a question, wait. And wait. Aaaand wait. The fancy word for this is latency, but the purpose is the same. We already know the information, and the fact that we were going to ask it. Your child does not have that knowledge. Plus, if it is a child who is struggling, they may need longer time to process that information.
3. Variety is the spice of life. It is also the spice to teaching. When you are teaching something new, talk about it, read about it, youtube about it, make something about it… Make sure your child has the opportunity to see it, hear it, visualize it, and experience it. The more opportunities they have to learn in different ways, the better they will internalize the information.
4. Wash, rinse, repeat. Repetition is critical for a struggling learner. Research has shown that young readers need to hear a story read to them up to 20 times in order to internalize it. It’s the same with any new information. Go back to information you have already taught and review it from time to time. After you’ve taught the concept, let them take a turn to be the teacher and explain it to you or a younger sibling.
Random Teacher/Mommy Handwriting Hack:
When you are working with a child that has atrocious handwriting, try writing what you want them to practice with a yellow highlighter first. They can copy the highlighted letters and get a feel for how they move. This will give them more confidence when they write on their own.
Two other items:
Thank you so much for this opportunity!
Melissa Jenkins, aka My Broken Bootstraps