Posted in education, mindset

Teaching, especially beginners

In the media, and in conversations with believers of said media, you will learn that anyone can be a teacher, that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” that passive learning from a video is the same as learning from a dynamic teacher. Basically, teaching is not a skill.

I’m here to tell you they’re wrong.

Now, there are some people who will learn from whatever you put in front of them. But we can’t make the exceptions the rule. (And typically, this applies to only one type of learning—the same person rarely can learn both book skills and kinesthetic skills from non-interactive instruction.)

There is value in connection. This is true in all parts of life, not just teaching. Why do you think, in certain situations, we’re trained to see people as “other”? It breaks our connection and makes it much easier for the people in charge to pit us against them.

There is value in being able to ask questions. If you went to college, surely there was a difference between a large lecture and a more intimate class. Or — there’s a reason for office hours (beyond asking for a better grade that you didn’t earn).

There is value simply in body language. A large portion of the feedback I get in classes I teach (to any age) is from body language and facial expressions. Sometimes it’s clear right away that what I just said isn’t making it. Or they’ve checked out and whatever I’m saying isn’t being received.

All that said, teaching beginners is a further specialization.

Every skill has technical language that goes with it. If, as the teacher, you aren’t aware of these words (that you’ve been using fluently for years, maybe decades) and define them ahead of time, your students are going to be lost. (Have you ever had a conversation with a person in a different field who isn’t aware of their field-specific acronyms?)

Human brains (again, any age) don’t absorb everything in one pass. It’s going to take more than one explanation of some of that vocabulary before students get it, and longer than that before they’re also fluent. Different students will remember different details first.

Skills need to be broken down into component parts, and those parts need to be offered in a sequence that makes sense.

And flow of information needs to be regulated. Too much too fast and your students are lost. The skills might seem simple to you, but how many years of practice with the skill do you have? Offering way too much information over and over doesn’t help most students to learn. If you’re in a position of being overwhelmed and the same volume of stuff comes at you repeatedly, does that help you to get a handle on it? If yes, it’s because you pick out one or two things from each wave and incorporate just those. Which is what you, as a good teacher, need to do for your students.

This is why people who teach preschool and kindergarten have a harder job than people who teach high school. Sure, we all know the content for preschool and kindergarten (probably?), but we definitely can’t all teach it.

Respect good teaching (whether it’s in a school, in a training, in a workshop—context is irrelevant). Remember that teaching is a skill, it’s something you get better at over time with intentional practice, and no, not anyone can do it equally well.

Posted in books, differences, education, mindset, parenting

Reading is reading!

The Kid is learning to read. I mean, he’s in the years-long process of learning to read.

He loves to read.

Part of that is that he reads things that are interesting to him. It doesn’t have to be books. It doesn’t have to be at his reading level. Whatever is interesting.

Sometimes, he likes to read his old picture books. (The words in those are not always easy to read, since they’re generally intended to be read out loud by a competent reader. Even when they are easy, he enjoys them.

Sometimes, he reads LEGO magazines.

Sometimes, he reads chapter books.

Right now, he’s reading a Minecraft graphic novel. I believe he’s read it in its entirety three times since acquiring it less than a week ago.

Reading is reading. It’s all practice. It’s all building skills, building habits, nurturing a love of reading.

I remember overhearing a conversation years ago between two moms. One’s son was only interested in reading comic books. She forced him to read “real books” before he was allowed to read comic books. They weren’t school-assigned; she just didn’t think comic books “counted” as reading.

There are words, sentences. There’s a story. There are characters.

It counts. It all counts.

Reading is reading.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, follow-up, mental health, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Follow up to ‘Take what you need’

(If you missed the original post/project details, you can find it here.)

Kids have been off and on with the sticky notes. I have needed to replenish them a time or two, but most seem to have chosen a couple, stuck them in their music binder, and not messed with them again.

Earlier this week, one of my classes was playing a (very short, very repetitive) song from memory during the school assembly. The lead photo was taken in the hallway on the way to the cafeteria.

I’m considering putting something like this up at home.


Posted in education, mental health, mindset, parenting

Mental health days … for kids

A law was passed in Oregon that students’ absences due to mental health issues can be excused.

But until I looked it up and read about it, all I knew was that “mental health days” are now excused.

Having a legit mental health issue and “taking a mental health day” are two very different things, in my opinion.

The point of the law is that mental health problems are just as legitimate as physical health problems and should be treated as such.

I agree.

I wonder if there’s a better name for them to make their purpose more clear.


Before I read and learned about it, this conversation happened.

“Kids can take mental health days now,” someone said in a passing conversation.

“Maybe we should make school so that they don’t need to.”

She laughed. I didn’t.

Kids taking a day off from school just because they need a break is evidence that there’s a flaw in the system.

No, being stressed is not something that kids just need to get used to. Instead of making life worse for younger people, why don’t we make it better for everyone else? (And return it to better for younger people…)

Wouldn’t it be better if kids were disappointed when school was over? If it was a place they looked forward to going on a regular basis? If it helped them feel competent, useful, creative, intelligent?

(Wouldn’t it be better if more workplaces were like this, too?)

And, as I just hinted at, this problem is not limited to schools. Or kids. We, on the whole, could make everyone’s days better if we all got on board with that… Just a little “we instead of me” thinking…

Posted in ebb & flow, education, mental health, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Take what you need

After going through a handful of ideas, I put up the display shown in the picture in both of my classrooms.

In case you can’t see the photo, there’s a poster in the middle that says “take what you need,” surrounded by sticky-notes with messages.

You got this!

I can do it!

Mistakes are opportunities

I am a problem solver

You are a problem solver

I’m going to be OK





I am in control

It’s hard but it’s worth it

I belong here

You belong here

Better than yesterday

I have grit

Each one is written once on each of five colors of paper and stuck randomly around the center poster.

I introduced this to my students–5th and 6th graders–on Monday at one school and on Thursday at my other school.

They seemed interested. Monday, a few kids grabbed one.

Thursday, most of the kids grabbed one. I didn’t see what everyone took (that wasn’t what we were working on!), but I did go look after they left to see what needed to be replenished. (Eyeball estimate–with random placement, I’m not going to count every single one of those to keep the counts even.)

One or two of many were missing: I’m a problem solver, I can do it, You got this, Breathe (though I think their intention is a reminder to take a good breath when they play).

But this is what struck me (and why I’m writing about it).

Every “I’m going to be OK” was taken.

It gave me pause.

Many of those kids are dealing with problems that I certainly didn’t deal with as a kid. (Some of them have problems I can relate to.) But most of them, I don’t really know their story.

I’m going to be OK.

I made more and stuck them up there. I may start circulating to see who is taking those, if it’s consistently the same kids, and check in, either with them directly or with their homeroom teacher or the counselor.

If that’s what they needed, I’m glad it was there.