What Makes a Great Teacher?
© Beverley Paine Jun 2004
I read a column in another newsletter recently which asked this question and began to think about it. It's easy to think that as home educators we have to replicate the role of 'teacher' in our homes, but it isn't long before we find out that we've replicated many of the behavioural problems teachers seem to face in the classroom! I soon abandoned my 'teacher' methods and tried to be more like 'just mum' in our homeschooling life, but that didn't feel very satisfying either. There were times I knew my children would have performed much better had I been a teacher and not 'just mum'!
I guess that was what lay at the heart of the problem - the expectation I had that my children should 'perform'... But in reality learning isn't - or shouldn't simply be - about demonstrating new skills or knowledge to others.
And if that's true, then teaching isn't about passing on my skills or knowledge to others - it's more about inspiring them to explore the skills and knowledge they want or need.
The article I read made it quite clear - it's not the great presentation, the wiz bang effects, the planning and preparation, or the time and effort: teaching is about inspiring children to do what they need to do to learn whatever it is they need to learn.
It isn't necessarily about motivating them, using tricks of the trade - you know - "learning must be fun", rewards, bribes, grades, threats and coercion; it's real action, generated by real interest and curiosity, the type of inspiration, way of seeing things that goes on for the rest of a person's life. It's inspiring a child to see something in a different way, of having a go, inventing, imagining; of bringing a new perspective. A great teacher makes every learning opportunity fresh and personal, and relevant to the learner's immediate situation.
Once I discovered this I realised it was much easier for me to be a great teacher around my children as I knew them better than just about any one else. Rather than spend my time focussing on performance, I began to focus on seeing life in a new exciting light - in much the same way as my children do, actually, with as much enthusiasm as they did.
Rather than think up ways to make learning fun, it suddenly became fun!
And then I came across this quote, which highlights another aspect of what makes a good 'teacher', on one of the homeschooling lists I subscribe to:
The master will rarely respond with an answer, but almost always simply repeat the question. "That is a good question," the master will say. "How can you stop hurting yourself this way?" The student will then discover the answer on his own, calling it forth from within, thereby coming to wisdom. Had the master given an answer, the student would have come to knowledge. Yet it was the master's intent that the student should come to wisdom. The two are not the same."
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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