...I will never be able to teach anything to anyone as well as they will be able to teach it to themselves if given the opportunity. So maybe that's what the definition of teacher should be: someone who makes learning possible, which often means simply preparing the ground for you to teach yourself" (Mali, What Teachers Make, 88).
Teachers have a real temptation to resist. At least I do. With kids, I like to be on stage, in charge, needed. I want to be the one who asks all of the questions, who already knows the answers, and who initiates the assignments. I like to play school. And I kind of, sort of like to be in control. So the temptation is to insert myself into the hub of the learning circle.
Can you relate?
The problem with the teacher being at the center is that the students aren't, and they are the ones who should be. We need to purposely get out of the way, staying on the periphery to coach and encourage, and allow students to be their own teachers.
What are some ways to do this at home, to "prepare the ground," particularly when students are in elementary school?
Create a rich learning environment.
Books, instruments, paper, art supplies, maps, dry erase boards, manipulatives, games, craft and sewing supplies, balls, creative toys (i.e. Legos, K'nex, Zome Tools), puzzles...make sure they're available and accessible. Your home may never be featured on the cover of a magazine, but at least your children will have plenty to keep their minds and hands busy.
View the world as your student's classroom.
Your students don't have to read and write to have a valid learning experience. You can encourage learning by visiting museums, historical re-enactments, concerts, performances, demonstrations, parks, and exhibits. Even a trip to the grocery store or bank can be educational. Be a willing taxi driver, and remember to talk (and listen) to your passengers. The trip is valuable learning time as you enjoy conversation together. Who knows what learning trail will be forged as a result of the trip!
Focus on the process.
Every product may not be all you hoped, but valuable learning occurs throughout the process. Value it; don't short-circuit it, especially if you're glued to an agenda. Realize that mistakes are part of the process, and we all know that mistakes can be our best opportunities for learning.
Visit the library regularly.
Let students explore the library, finding what interests them. If they migrate to the same series every time, nudge them toward something new. Or send them on a scavenger hunt of the library, so they can see the broader collection. Or host a book club, inviting each participant to advertise a favorite book in a particular genre.
Out of sight can be out of mind, so pull out a book or something else from the list on the left and place it strategically on the coffee table, on the arm of the couch, on the back of the toilet, somewhere it will be noticed, picked up, and enjoyed. I used to be a shameless strewer, getting even my husband to read something I purposely littered in the living room. (Okay, maybe it's a bit manipulative, but librarians do it, too, you know.)
Get out of the way.
Remember that your kids aren't you. One of the ways I learned this lesson was in sewing. If I need to sew an article of clothing, I buy a pattern and follow it meticulously. When two of my daughters decide to sew, they envision what they want in their heads and work to unveil the vision. I can marvel quietly at their skill now, but on their first attempts, admonitions longed to bust out of my mouth: "You can't do that; you need a pattern." I had to muzzle my mouth as I reminded myself that just because I need a pattern doesn't mean they need one. They aren't me!
I like to cast my line of suggestions or ideas and see which daughter takes my bait. I must admit, though, it worked tons better when my girls were in elementary school. My ideas don't generate the same level of enthusiasm anymore. (But I can still try. : D)
Allow for stewing.
You can contort yourself in multiple ways to explain a concept, but if the student isn't ready, she'll end up in tears, and you'll be hopelessly tangled. More often than not, if you leave it and revisit it later, mysterious brain linkages will form, causing the longed-for light bulb to shine. Sometimes all students need is time.
Whether you're on an errand or an adventure, with a book or a craft project, be open to learning and growing alongside your kids. You may already have your diploma and degree(s), but you've only dipped your toe in the ocean of knowledge. Learning something new will give you empathy when you're tempted to push, and a hobby when you crave control.