One of the things that has surprised me the most about being a new parent is how much my daughter has taught me about teaching. Even though her age doesn’t match at all with the age of my students, she has reminded me of many important considerations to keep in mind when teaching children. By reflecting on what I have learned about my child and how her brain works, I have come to realize that all of the things she has taught me about teaching her are also things I should be keeping in mind when teaching any child of any age.
Here are six lessons courtesy of my toddler.
Sometimes I need to ask her something more than once. If she does not respond to my first request, it is generally not because she is trying to be difficult. Most of the time, it’s that she is so absorbed in whatever it is that she’s doing that I’m not sure she really hears me. For my child, that usually means drawing, but for my students that means chatting with peers, daydreaming, reading – or just thinking. I’ve had students so caught up in their book that the entire class got up and left for recess without them noticing the commotion or noise.
Addressing her by name before asking her something is always better. Particularly when we are not alone in the house, I find that she is much more likely to stop what she is doing and give me her full attention if I call her name before speaking to her. Unsurprisingly, my grade four students are the same. They’re so used to hearing my voice all day, every day that they kind of tune it out unless they know I’m addressing them directly or the entire class.
She does not understand everything the first time I show it to her. Sometimes I need to find another way to show her the same skill before she finds a way which works for her, sometimes she just needs practice to master it, and sometimes she isn’t ready for that skill yet. Likewise, not all of my students will grasp something the first time I teach it, and most of them benefit from having the same skill or concept taught in multiple ways.
She experiences big – and I mean BIG – emotions. Her life is in a constant state of upheaval as she forges new connections, learns new fundamental skills, and expands her worldview. Her brain is changing constantly. She does not fully comprehend most of what goes on around her or why things are the way they are. She also does not really know how to regulate her emotions or behaviour yet, because she is a child, and sometimes that means that her emotions manifest themselves in really dramatic ways. My ten year old students are dealing with a lot of changes too – hormones, crushes, self-expression and identity, more knowledge of the world around them. They need help learning how to navigate the waters of pre-adolescence.
When she is having a difficult day, there is usually a reason. Kids are challenging. Sometimes my daughter behaves as if the world is ending and I’m the villain in the story of her life. She doesn’t want to put her shoes on, she doesn’t want to eat that sandwich, she doesn’t want to play outside OR be inside OR be spoken to OR be left alone. For some reason, when we are talking about toddlers, we can easily find explanations for their behaviour: they didn’t sleep well, they haven’t eaten, they are in pain from teething or growing, their routine has changed. We forget that older children are every bit as susceptible to these factors as toddlers are, and that likely our challenging students are not behaving that way just because they want to be difficult.
Every day is a new day. No matter how challenging the day before was, my child greets me each day with enthusiasm and hope. My students are the same way. Every day is a chance to improve on the day before.
I know I have learned all of these things before, and that none of these are new or groundbreaking ideas – but I needed these reminders. Since going back to work, I have found myself so overwhelmed and frustrated by my students’ behaviour that I needed my daughter to remind me that my students are children too, even if they’re older. They have only been on this planet for ten years – barely any time at all! They need guidance, patience, and compassion, just like every child.