A True Teacher
I just want to brag on my boy for a moment. This is my 11 year old, Josh, listening to my Dad on the phone. He calls his grandpa everyday for an hours long teaching session on electronics. You would not believe the subject matter that is covered in these sessions. (Both of them are geniuses, by the way.) Sometimes, I hear my Dad assuming that Josh knows things like algebra and I almost step in. But then Josh will say stuff like, “You can’t divide letters, Grandpa.” My Dad says, “Yes, you can, Josh. The letters are just substitutes for numbers.” Josh says, “Oh. Ok. ” And on they go. I sit back down; no interference needed! They cover subjects like potential, resistance, capacity, ohms, voltage, etc. Josh is learning scientific notation and the meaning of a slew of Greek letters. Grandpa has sent him a box full of little tiny parts that look suitable for jewelry (if you ask me) that are eventually to be used for electronic boards in future projects. This includes little black chips that look like a variety of bugs that my dad says he has collected throughout a career of electronics. Apparently, they ‘do stuff’. I gave Josh a plastic box full of little drawers to organize all these darling little parts. He went and quickly organized them and labeled every drawer!
Josh has build a power supply and is now building upon that supply a variety of projects that teach him basic electronics. My dad used to teach young men and women in classes. He is now running Josh, an eleven year old, through the same class. He laughs when I mention that he isn’t teaching him like a kid. He told me, “Well, I’ve never taught a child before. I figured I would just teach him like an adult until we hit problems! ” So far, so good. Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for.
We have a BIG, big problem with our schools and with our culture. We keep them ignorant for too long. We fail to give them truly interesting things to do. We assume they are too small to understand ‘adult’ things. They aren’t. Josh hates the ‘highly capable’ program he was placed into at school. He scored a genius IQ in their tests but doesn’t do any better in their ‘highly capable’ (what an awful name!) program than he did in the regular program. Both programs seem more interested in teaching discipline than in teaching knowledge. My dad only cares if Josh understands. There is no punishment. He assumes that Josh wants to learn and he is correct in his assumption. He tells Josh that his responsibility is to tell him when he doesn’t understand. If he doesn’t do that, then Grandpa can’t help him. So Josh will boldly say, “Grandpa! I don’t understand that.” Grandpa will then say, “Ok, Josh. You don’t understand that? Let’s try it this way.” He explains until Josh understands. Then they go on. No muss, no fuss. He asks hard questions- not to trick Josh, but to see if he understands. If Josh didn’t get them right, he says plainly, “Josh, you got that wrong. I want you to look at such and such diagram more closely. Then I want you to answer that question.” No muss, no fuss.” He asks Josh to do some things between sessions. Josh will stay up late doing these projects. I have to pull him away from his work station. Even his friends can’t tempt him away from this. He LOVES it. His sense of accomplishment is huge. The rest of the world just disappears. He is lost in a new world with a like minded person- Grandpa. It is a world of bliss.
My father is a true teacher. This world used to understand what a true teacher is. People used to hire these kinds of people to teach their children. These types of teachers would gain reputations and followings. They became renowned for their ability to know what their students needed and how they needed things explained to them. Today’s teachers are more like parrots. I’m not sure how well they understand the subject matter themselves- they receive State sanctioned lesson plans that tell them exactly what to teach every day. They don’t seem to be able to connect their knowledge to the outside world around them or to the future of the students before them.
They don’t seem able to connect the various subjects to each other, even. It is simply a matter of teaching each subject, one by one, as if each is separate from one another, as if each if separate from the real world. None of that is true! Each is completely intertwined with each other- intimately entwined- so much so that to create the subject areas must have been quite a headache for the earliest educators! How can we teach biology without mention of chemistry? How can we teach chemistry without mention of math? How can we teach music without math? How can we teach art without physics?
They are all together in a body called KNOWLEDGE- something of which mankind has only scratched the surface. It must be taught with great excitement and sensitivity to the real world around the child- with an eye toward how it will be used in their lives- otherwise, the child has every right to ask, “Why should I bother learning this?” Today’s educators discipline the child who would dare to ask this question in class when, in fact, that is the child who would probably do best if only that question were properly answered.
My father instinctively understands this. That is how he ‘gets’ Josh to learn algebra, physics, electronics, etc without any effort at all. Josh hangs on his every word and can’t wait for his next session- after all, why wouldn’t he want to learn all that when his entire, really, really cool project requires all that knowledge to work? It is all completely relevant! ‘Relevant’ is the operative word in education and it is the number one criteria when attempting to motivate children to learn. Without relevance, there is no motivation. My father teaches his classes project by project, not subject by subject. Various subjects are taught within each project. The excitement of the project is the motivation to learn the various subject matter within the project. Motivation simply isn’t an issue with my Dad’s teaching. When Granpa is pulled away by Grandma (hee, hee) to a social occasion, Josh pouts. I would challenge all teachers to observe my father and the way he does things. Observe his style; observe his naturalness; observe his passion; observe his ease. Then, even with the State’s cramping interference, implement what he does. You will be sure to have a class full of children hanging on your every word.