Many of us are in positions to be a teacher more often than we sometimes realise. My second grader suggested to her mother that she become a teacher. My wife responded that she did not have the training that she felt a teacher needed. But, trained or not, sometimes all we need to grasp are the teachable moments. We get these many times a day, but how do we respond?
Parents perhaps feel that they get too many requests for information from their children. Life can be full of “Why…?”, “Who…?”, “Where…?”, “How…?” Dealing with the questions may expose our ignorance or give us a chance to show our knowledge, but in dealing with them we are offered opportunities to teach others how to learn and find information. That should help reduce the string of questions that we adults have to field.
We no longer have to rely on visits to libraries or having shelves filled with encyclopedias or other books that can offer answers to many of the questions that will be posed. Whatever we feel about the many electronic gadgets that fill our lives, those that offer access to the Internet can be saviours.
As we were driving around this weekend, we got an array of questions. One was “Who was Clara Barton?” I did not know, other than that her name was attached to the parkway on which we were driving. But, it gave my wife the chance to be a teacher: “Why don’t you look on Google?” she suggested to our daughter, handing her a mobile phone. So, after a brief tutorial on how to use the browser on the phone, our daughter was soon reading the Wikipedia summary; we were all better informed after that. Now, we should know that the Internet is full of false or inaccurate information, but as we drove along with a child happier for having discovered something new, it was not something to sweat over.
“What is a saint, and how do I become one?” was another question posed during the same drive. The answer to that one was a bit trickier, though my wife made a good attempt at explaining how people became saints, including that they were often martyrs. My daughter asked, immediately, if her young cousin who had died in a tragic car accident was going to be a saint.
We often get opportunities to teach through example and repetition–both can be taxing, in general, and even more so with children. It’s hard to get children to do something that they notice you or other adults do not. I love a children’s book, Eat your peas (by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt), about a mother who battles to get her daughter to eat peas; the mother herself dislikes Brussels sprouts. In another book in the series, You do, Daisy notices that her mother has some of the same habits for which she chastises Daisy. Much time is spent repeating to children what we expect of their behaviour, even though we may be guilty of ‘do as I say not as I do’: “How about ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?” “Please don’t just interrupt…” “Be nice to other people. It’s how you want them to treat you…”
But, teaching moments can be delicately balanced. I was driving home with two second grade girls the other day, when their conversation touched on ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’. “Say a long word, like nerds use,” came the request. “Like ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’?” came a reply. I wondered where this would go. I asked “What makes someone a nerd or a geek?” Without hesitation, I got back “That’s easy. They are smart and wear glasses.” I paused and tried to keep focused on steering the car. “Is your friend next to you smart and wearing glasses?” I asked. “Oh, yes! Super smart!” I let the moment sink in. We went on for a few minutes thinking of family and friends who were smart and wore glasses. “So, will you be telling them they are nerds and geeks?” I asked. “No!” came a clear reply. We know that labelling people is easy and that labels stick. But do we support the labelling or challenge it?
Of course, teaching moments can also be pure fun. A couple of days ago, my daughter began reading from a book about Gilbert and Sullivan and how they wrote The Mikado while we were heading home. So, as soon as we got home, we searched online for some of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas and ended up spending the afternoon singing along with Nanki-Poo, Yum-Yum, the Great Pooh-Bah, and the Major General.
You never know when the moment will occur to have to do some teaching. Just be prepared, I guess.