What Makes a Good Teacher?

There has been much going on in my neck of the woods with regards to education recently. Teachers strikes, contract negotiations, optimum class sizes, budget cuts. It is all becoming a little cumbersome. We are parents in a somewhat unique situation, in that we have grown (well, almost grown) children and one still in elementary school. So we have a broad base of comparison. Youth is a whole other entity and we should have a prayer list a mile long for these blessed creatures. Then a double prayer list for their mommas and dads. Oh no, parenting is not for the weak. Or the squeamish. Especially if you have been blessed with boys, or an over dramatic girl. Or a partner who cannot handle barf. But, I digress. I’ve been working on a baby gift that I have to send off to some new parents soon, and pondered about how differently their little one will grow up — even compared to my youngest. The world changes so rapidly and we must do our best to keep up.

I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of one particular type of education. It’s not my place… although I would love to sit down with you and discuss home schooling vs. private school vs. public school vs… well, let’s just say I would love to sit with you. I have my own views and opinions that may differ from yours. Which is okay because I am not raising your kid. For the record, I am not an educational expert, either. I’ve seen a few systems, though. And most, if not all, of them are broken. There is not a “perfect” way to raise a child — because there are no perfect parents, and no perfect children. Oh, and here is a big revelation… there are no perfect teachers, either. Or class sizes, or budgets, or salary caps, or… you get the picture.

Which is why I always say that you must be involved in your student’s education. It is vital you know what goes on in the classroom and in the system. And in the heart of your student. But let’s back up a bit and think about that: “education”. What does it mean? The short answer is this: Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. (Wikipedia — which may not be your choice for “educational” definitions, but serves my purposes here, so let’s all move on, shall we?) The acquisition of knowledge. You can get that from sticking your finger in a light socket. No system necessary there. But “facilitating learning”? Much deeper thoughts. How does one do this for such a diverse generation? Can we do it for our own kids? For ourselves?

What about those values and beliefs? Who is responsible for those? The high priest? Pastor? Youth specialist? YouTube? We were teasing our church’s youth pastor, recently, that because he wasn’t a skilled ice skater and didn’t know how to play the guitar, that somehow he didn’t have all the necessary “qualifications” of youth leader. (It’s not true, of course!) but what should our teachers possess in order to make them “good” and “qualified” teachers? Four years of seminary? Greek study? Summer mission experience? Married? Single? Oh, we fiercely debate such things. And so I muse: What does make a good teacher?

I think it is someone who cares about the student. Dare I say loves the student so deeply that they want to see them succeed in that “acquisition of knowledge”… so that it changes their lives forever. Someone who can foster a lifelong love of learning. My favourite teachers were the ones who inspired me. Frankly, I hardly remember a thing they taught. I remember the comments or the encouragement, or the way they made concepts come alive or applicable to me and my measly existence in the universe. People who may have thought differently than I, and challenged my way. In turn, solidifying my core values and/or correcting my habits. So, you see, it is all of us. Formal education is only one part of the puzzle. It’s people who challenge the norms, it’s intergenerational mentorship, it’s cross cultural experiences, it’s formal learning in traditional sessions and it’s being creative and using the gifts God gives us. I don’t care if you have your own kids or not, when you come in contact with mine, you are teaching them. Whether you like it or not.

And we fail. Often. But failure, too, is part of learning. Overcoming the failure and the ability to move forward shapes the next mistake, and the mistake after that. So, be encouraged, my friend, that there is only one perfect teacher who walked the Earth. Yet Jesus also grew in “…wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man…” (Luke 2). He was taught, and was the Teacher. His goals were clear, but loved the students so much that no one was denied the learning experience. Learned men, women, children and outcasts and sinners sat at His feet and were taught with patience and love. Sure, we have our preferences. We have our strategies and pedagogies and they too, ebb and flow as our society changes and the next generation leads the way for a new one. But we should never stop learning. And teaching.

I Challenge You!

Finally had a little break from the busy work schedule of last week! I escaped North to visit the oldest beloved. It means I will have lots of work to do when I get back home, so it may not really be too much of a break, but for now, I am relishing the quiet. An introvert needs her time to recoup, you know!

Today, we worshiped at her church… a younger crowd of Jesus followers meeting together to praise the Lord with a little more flash and flourish than I am used to, but a great Bible based message was given, and I am thankful she has found a place where her faith can continue to grow away from home. The pastor’s sermons are relevant connections to the group living there, intended for their special circumstances and neighbourhood. It is different from ours at home… and that is okay. Which got me thinking about an activity I saw in a classroom about a month ago.

The teacher had a bulletin board displayed with challenges that the students made up for their peers to attempt. Simple things like “write a poem like me”, or “play the game I made for you to try” or “make up a cool emoji to use to describe your feelings”. My understanding is, that it was an exercise to create some student choice, as well as an activity that allowed the students to interact and learn from their peers. I thought it was quite a noble concept for public school — and got me thinking about the world as a whole.

I have many friends who have chosen to home school their children. Others who choose to send their children to private or religion based schools. When our eldest was born, we explored various options as well — even considering Montessori learning. As parents, we want the best education possible for our kids. We also want our values and culture to be relevant and present in the lives of our beloveds as well. For many of us, this includes our faith. Especially at a stage where their development is so poignant to their future lives. Let’s face it – whatever we have exposure to when we are young, we tend to use as part of our future lives also.

But let’s get back to trying to condense my muse into something more concrete. I guess what I am trying to say, is that no matter what our background, no matter what our culture, no matter where we grew up, or what kind of life we have led, we come to the cross on the same level. Yet — we need to learn from — and be challenged by — our fellow humans. Our peers. Different cultures. Different methods of learning. Different methods of worship. To use our five senses in worship, thus allowing our faith to grow in whole body, soul, mind and spirit. Fellow students of Biblical learning, challenging one another in love, to go beyond what we know, to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron. It’s a Biblical concept that instructs us to learn from each other, to meet together to fellowship, to share ideas and grow in our relationships. It’s part of who God made us to be. The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s day knew the law — but Jesus was always challenging them to live out what they learned… with grace and love.

I will be the first to admit that this is not easy for me. I am quick to be negative. I am quick to criticize this or that as not a “proper” method of worship. I, too, have my own biases and preferences. Therefore, I too, must do my research and discover if something is simply tradition, or is it a biblical practice? Can I learn from my peers and be challenged to try something different? Do I choose to hide from the “grey areas” of the faith world and not engage in discussions about difficult topics? Can I learn from someone else’s background? Or worse, will it strengthen my children’s faith by allowing them to be exposed to hard questions? To be confronted by their friends? Or do I hide and protect them from it all? It’s not an easy answer. Are you up for the challenge? I’d love to hear from you! In what ways have you been called to give an answer by others? Has it been easy or hard? Share in the comments!

Is Homework Necessary?

 December first has come and gone.  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, and are anticipating the weeks of holiday bliss which are about to arrive.  But before the Mitton clan goes whole hog on Christmas, we have to get through the last few weeks of school.  Which, in our neck of the woods, means a whole whack of homework.  A topic that has led to a rather brooding debate amongst us… is homework really necessary?!  My first answer as mom, educator and lover of learning, says yes, yes, of course!  Homework is a must.  How can we continue learning if there is no homework, no testing, no study?  The rest of the clan disagrees.  It’s stressful, it’s useless, it’s too time consuming, it has no purpose.  These are the things I am hearing!  Even the hubby, who is thinking of branching out of his comfort zone and taking a course in the new year (to which I am very proud!) wants only to audit a course and not do the homework.  Awk!  No, no, no, I say!  How can you really learn if you have no concrete evidence… nothing to show at the end…no “mark” of your ability.  But — I am willing to be open minded — and so I muse:  Is homework really necessary?

  From what I have gathered, “homework” — the work sent home because either it is not completed in class, or is assigned to enhance the practice, preparation for, or extensions of, lessons done in class — is becoming a hot topic.  There seems to be a growing trend to eliminate it all together.  In Canada, “no homework policies” are being pushed by both parents and educators alike, labeling homework as stress inducing, and time-robbing.  A 2008 study done in Ontario, discovered that the dreaded homework hour can become the primary source of arguments in a household.  Not only in parent/child power struggles, but even among marriages as well.  (Which seems to be happening in my house, too…)  And so I muse again… Why?

Apparently the answer lies in the amount of time.  The “ideal” amount of homework, as laid out by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association in the US, suggests a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level.  Canadian educators pretty much follow this standard as well.  However, reports are coming in that students are doing much, much more than this.  On average, Ontario students are given 40 minutes of homework per night.  Add multiple subjects and this can get pretty stressful. Families argue that this cuts into family time, not to mention that if there is misunderstanding or learning struggles — that 40 minutes could drag on in to infinity….

So.  Let’s take a step back.  Let’s look at the big picture of why we educate in the first place.  If our Christian lifestyle impacts our understanding in this topic, then God should have something to say about it too.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs to “…get wisdom and understanding at all costs…” (Proverbs 4).  Could this mean giving up some favourite television show to study the multiplication table?  Or forcing our students off the devices to sit with pen and paper to make a “useless” title page?  Possibly.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect scholars over here… we have had our fair share of homework struggles… pulling our hair out to get that perfect paper machéd, 3-D model of some obscure parallelogram.  Or setting the timer for exactly 21 minutes of reading because that is the bare minimum required.   I have seen my teens burn the midnight oil on more than one occasion to complete that assignment simply because they procrastinated the rest of the week.  Homework can certainly be stress inducing.  And as parents, I think it is our job to shape, encourage and instruct our children… that yes, education is important.  And yes, this teacher’s expectations may be out of the ball park… so let’s deal with learning to have difficult conversations, let’s deal with how to interact with people who do not see our points of view, let’s be present in our education systems and seek wisdom.  Let’s make homework part of the bigger idea of “gathering wisdom.”

I’m not convinced there is an easy answer to the homework debate.  We are a full mix of people with many given gifts.  We have different goals and different learning styles.  Good grief… even within my own little clan, we cannot agree on this debate!  For now… I will encourage the completion of homework in our house, with the premise of gathering wisdom.  Skills like multiplication tables and correct spelling and grammar are necessary, yes, but so is good communication, and loving your neighbour, and standing up for what you believe.  Can homework achieve this?  Certainly not in 40 minutes a night.  It becomes a piece of a much, much broader idea, that I will continue to muse about often.

Let me know your thoughts… do you home school and avoid homework altogether?  Do you enforce homework time at your house?  Is it a struggle? Have helpful hints to share?  We’d love to hear from you!   Drop us a line!