by Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide
In traditional schools, students arrive in a teacher’s classroom with a variety of experiences, beliefs and aptitudes. Building relationships with 100 students a semester takes practice and patience – but teachers benefit by learning that students bring unbelievably many different paths to success. No two students are alike – and woe betides the teacher who makes too strong of comparisons.
Home schooling parents, on the other hand, have a much more limited group of kids to base their experiences on. Deprived of a student teaching experience as well as classroom experience, they are limited to comparisons of their children to each other as well as close relatives and any other homeschool families they know well.
This difference in breadth of experience can lead to homeschooling parents labeling their child as having problematic behavior when the kid is behaving in an age-appropriate manner – but is perhaps developing a tad more slowly than an older sibling or has a higher activity level.
This example cropped up in Mrs. Maxwell’s book:
“One of my children is much slower in his learning than the others have been. This son is my dawdler as well. When he sits down to do his school work, he is immediately up to sharpen his pencil, pat the dog on the way, washes his hands for good measure, checks out what his sister is doing at the piano, and finally hops back to his work. My ingrained reaction is frustration and irritation. This one child takes so much more of my time and energy than the others. I am discouraged because of the slow progress we make in areas he is struggling with. Can you see my wrong thinking and focus? Unfortunately, my eyes are on myself. My spirit is not quiet. If it were, I would be content with the way God made this child, and there would be no turbulence inside me.” (pg. 18-19)
Truthfully, “slower” isn’t a diagnostic term in education. There is a wide amount of variation between students when acquiring new skills. When doing genetic problems in high school, some students reached mastery after a single day of practice. Others took over a week of exposure before reaching mastery. Did I worry about the students who were five times “slower” than the early mastery students? No, as long as they were showing forward progress and didn’t seem discouraged, they would get to mastery soon enough.
Next, let’s discuss “dawdling” for a moment. Humans have a wide continuum of levels of attention and focus to a task on hand. Some people have attention that drifts when any new stimulus appears; the other extreme is nearly unbreakable focus on a single task. Equally importantly, few students have levels of attention that exactly match the teacher’s attention. Yup, Mrs. Maxwell’s son’s attention drifts more than hers does; after all, she can list exactly what he did during a time period when he probably can’t. The difference doesn’t mean that a problem exists – just that humans are not identical copies of their parents.
I also am a highly focused person – but I found that I was a much more effective teacher when I stopped wasting emotional energy on trying to get students to be on-task every moment of the class period. The truth is that Mrs. Maxwell’s son gets to make choices about how he uses his homeschooling time and lives with the consequences of those choices. Mrs. Maxwell could save herself a lot of irritation and frustration by deciding what the consequences of not being on-task during school time are and enforcing those consequences calmly. Most homeschooling kids schedules have a good size block of free-play time between the end of quiet time/nap and dinner/chores. Personally, I’d let the kid keep 30-60 minutes of that free time to blow off some steam, but then the kid would be expected to continue working for the rest of the play time until he finished the assignment. If he still was off-task, he’d have to continue working during a portion of evening play time. (I need to put a caveat here: this assumes that the assignment is age-appropriate, that the student understands how to do the assignment, and that I created an area that had an appropriate atmosphere for studying. If any of these issues exist, forcing the student to spend more time spinning his or her wheels is an exercise in insanity building.) My rationale for doing this is that many excellent home school graduates mention struggling with time management and completing tasks on a schedule when they move on to college.
As I was writing this post, I realized my main annoyance with that quote: good teachers are focused on positive academic and personal outcomes for their students while Mrs. Maxwell’s main goal is maximizing her spiritual growth. I’ve spent my time figuring out how to teach her son to modulate his attention; she’s spent her time figuring out how to ignore her.
I probably would have forgotten that quote if Mrs. Maxwell hadn’t decided to reference it much later in the book:
Remember my son who takes so much of my time and energy for his home schooling? It is very easy for me to have a frustrated tone in my voice when I am interacting with him. The Lord will convict me of this. When I respond with worldly sorrow, here is how my thinking goes, “This child is just more than I can handle patiently. I am not cut out for this task. I have prayed for patience. I have worked on being meek with him, but I keep failing over and over.” My whole focus is on me. I have no real concern for this particular sin in my life. My sorrow is worldly because it wants to be right and good on its own efforts. (pg. 51)
Notice that Mrs. Maxwell conflates being honest in her thoughts with a form of sin. Her thoughts are completely clear and lucid. She’s not being patient with her son. She’s not well-prepared or educated for teaching. She’s not patient or meek and she’s failing repeatedly.
The problem is that she fails to take the next logical step of “What do I need to change to improve my teaching skills with my son?” Instead, she becomes more self-centered and self-involved by prioritizing her “worldly sin” over learning how to teach.
We do agree on one thing: Mrs. Maxwell’s focus is entirely on herself – not her son.
The use of the verb “to convict” is a pet peeve of mine – see endnote 1.
“This is how I see godly sorrow handling the same situation, “Lord, you have said that man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that You desire. You have also said that love is patient and kind. I have not been obedient to You. Your fruit is not showing forth in my son. I am wrong, Lord. Please forgive me. Thank you for your forgiveness and working in my life. I submit to You and ask You to continue to teach me your ways.” Then I quickly confess my wrong attitudes and tone of voice to my son and ask his forgiveness.” (pgs. 51-52)
This is an excellent example of the belief that fixing the sin of one person can fix a completely unrelated problem in a different person. Mrs. Maxwell implies that her son is progressing slowly in academics and dawdles because Mrs. Maxwell is impatient with him.
That’s reversing cause and effect.
More problematically, Mrs. Maxwell denies any autonomous effort or action by her son. Her son initiates behaviors – he works on his assignments, he wanders the house, he pets the dog, he checks in on his sister. Her son controls all of those actions. He’s not a puppet who responds solely to the amount of meekness she shows in her life. Heck, he may be completely unaware of how annoying she finds his behavior since he’s one kid in a household of 8 kids and two adults. Perhaps he’s learned that being off-task is a consistent way to get her attention since negative attention is better than being overlooked.
I’m shocked at how many times Mrs. Maxwell can realize that her method of doing something isn’t working – and then double down on making the solution all about her needs and wants.
Teaching is not about the needs of the teacher but the needs of the student.
1) CP/QF writers’ use of the verb “to convict” is irritating.
There are two meanings of the noun “conviction”.
- having been found guilty of breaking a criminal law
- a strongly held belief or opinion
The verb “to convict” only refers to the legal proceedings meaning – not the act of having a strong belief or opinion.
The paragraph would make much more sense if she stated that “God has shown me the truth of this conviction” etc.
2) When capitalizing prayers, authors and editors need to chose if the pronoun “you” will be capitalized when describing Jesus/God and if possessive pronouns referencing God will be capitalized. I learned to capitalize both – but I accept any combination as valid as long as it is uniform in a work. In the prayer above, both types of capitalization are used for “you” and the possessive pronouns are all over the place in other sections of the book.
Letting Anxiety Rule Your Life
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