Even when you choose to unschool, as a parent you will have moments when you are the teacher. Don’t worry if you don’t have a teaching credential. The critical elements that make a great teacher are often not taught in college, nor are they required to earn a teaching credential.
So, you may be asking yourself these questions:
How can I be the best teacher for my kids? As a self-directed learner, how do I become my own best teacher?
How does a great teacher spread the love of learning?
Close your eyes for a moment and remember the best teacher you ever had. Maybe it was in a Sunday school or summer camp. Think of someone who was a great teacher in your life- not necessarily a classroom teacher. It could be a coach, a music teacher, a scout leader, a professor, a parent, a neighbor, a mentor. Perhaps a friend.
Can you recapture the good feeling of that learning experience? What did you learn? How? What was it about the teacher and how they interacted with you that made it great? How did they make you feel? Jot those down.
I have two elementary school teachers that immediately come to mind: Mrs. Willing and Miss Alcott. I don’t remember any specific anecdote about my second grade class, but when I think of Mrs Willing I feel happy and warm and loved and totally accepted, like I can do anything. I recently saw some of the report cards my mom saved from those years. Mrs. Willing focused on my strengths and I excelled, learning and growing stronger in knowledge, skills and the ability to manage my habits and learning. (Any guesses as to what I needed to work on?)
When I think of Miss Alcott and fourth grade, I smile and remember square dancing with Earl. Earl was tall and skinny. I was short and skinny. And we were overachievers in the square dance set – when they said swing, we were going for lift off. I couldn’t wait for the caller to holler “and SWING YOUR PARTNER!”
I can still close my eyes and feel like I am flying while dancing with Earl, I’m sure my feet must have been off the ground. Miss Alcott and the rest of the class were in hysterics, in a good way. I also remember struggling to have beautiful cursive like my teacher and how she never got mad at me, even when I made so many blotches with my ink and fountain pen. My handwriting improved but is still not great. Yet I left that class with the confidence that I could learn and improve anything, if I wanted to concentrate on that skill. I remember walking to her house to visit her for years after I was in fourth grade, and still feeling seen, loved, and encouraged.
The nightmare teacher
Okay, now, think of your WORST teacher. What made them the worst teacher you ever had? How did they interact and teach? How did they make you feel? Jot it down.
Unfortunately this one is an instant memory, too. My high school spanish teacher lived to humiliate students. I still feel creepy crawly just thinking of him. He made a derogatory comment about how my chest size didn’t match my brain size. That sense of heat and dread and embarrassment comes flooding back. It’s a wonder I ever spoke Spanish again.
I can’t forget my piano teacher who said, “Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. It is such a shame. You are my hardest working student but you have no talent. What a waste.” It took years before I played music again. Even though I’ve tried to overcome the devastation of that moment I am much happier and freer moving to the ukulele than I have been able to be with piano. It’s been more than 40 years and this still gets me. Don’t be that teacher.
Okay, let’s break it down. What can you do to be the great teacher and not the world’s worst? What made me feel great and horrible as a learner had nothing to do with those teacher’s credentials or subject area expertise. There are multiple attributes that can help improve teaching and learning, but the underlying attitude toward the learner is key to setting the stage for learning to unfold.
So, start with creating that feeling of confidence and joy that makes you want to learn and feel like you can learn. Strive to develop these attitudes in yourself, and look for them if you are finding a teacher for yourself or your kids.
10 Attitudes for Spreading the Love of Learning
Accepting. Accepts and loves learner for who are, where they are.
Experimental. Mistakes do not equal failure, they are feedback we can use to give us direction for what to try next.
Calm. Trusts the learning process. Manages emotions, time, activity, and pacing to reduce stress.
Loving. Connects emotionally, loves unconditionally, encourages enthusiastically.
Open-minded. Enjoys learning from all situations and people about all kinds of topics in new ways. Willingness to find new ways that work for learners.
Playful. Shares a sense of humor. Believes learning is and should be enjoyable. Joy, laughter and fun can go hand in hand with learning, hard work, and challenges.
Positive. Sees and build on strengths. Sees potential. Believes that all are capable of learning and growing and that change and growth are good.
Reflective. Practices reflection and analyzes how and what needs to change about self to improve interaction and communication with the learner.
Respectful. Respects learner’s input and feelings, and empowers the learner. Creates a safe environment for learning.
Responsible. Takes responsibility for own actions and doing what needs to be done, even when inconvenient. Apologizes when needed.
Be the Change: Progress not Perfection
Embodying these ten attitudes to spread the love of learning works for parents and self-directed learners. It is an ongoing process. Sometimes we need to work on how we view and treat ourselves as learners before we can spread the love to our kids. Keep at it.
None of us are perfect. I am sure you will have, just as I do, plenty of what I call “Mea Culpa Moments.” There will be times you need to slow down and work on rebalancing and basic relationship repair, which is more important than any topic, deadline, or outside pressure. How I wish I could undo the times I lost my patience, yelled, and let stress take over and ended up modeling exactly what I didn’t want to teach.
One of the beauties of unschooling and homeschooling is that you have so much more time with your family. You can structure your day to build in the time for mindfulness and reflection. You can choose the activities and company you keep to support your developing the learning attitudes that you want. And when you are in the teacher role, for your kids or yourself, you can aim to be that teacher that leaves a legacy of joyful learning.
What’s your opinion? Do you need or want an attitude adjustment? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at email@example.com! Lisa