When I was growing up, I never cared for homework. I did it to pass the grades. For a couple of years, I excelled, then returned to my regular routine of making sure I passed the grades, while one sibling excelled and went to a university among many choices with pretty much everything paid. Of course, I eventually completed my university education and went on to help others learn. I think the path I chose was one less travelled, but through working, hobbies, reading, and teaching, seeing a growing apathy in our youth, the desire to learn and bring to the students more, showing them the value of learning, even on their own, to take on hobbies and dream of things when they grow up, I came to realize how important both learning and understanding are for our youth. In one country, I discovered that the children go to school during the day, but starting at a certain grade, they also go to night school. In one show, I remember something that always stuck with me, of course, in my adult years: a teenage child was wanting to just get by in school, then work without dreams of rising up the ladder. The father said something important here. He said to his teenage child that fear of brains falling out due to all the study was the real fear, even fear of failure and all the work required. Just do your best and everything else is okay, he explained. And finding your own way to learn is for each person. We need to encourage our youth to learn. But learning happens in a variety of venues, and developing conversations at home is part of it. One very successful entrepreneur remembers sitting near the adults, after dinner, listening to the conversations about life and the issues of the day, with friends. Another did the same. If we educate ourselves, as adults, really educate ourselves, learn to think for ourselves, reading between the lines in many cases, then we can foster a curiosity and desire to know that which is useful. This then becomes a building block for which the children grow up, able to figure things out, and in effect, “see” the doors of opportunities that so many don’t believe are there. Perhaps, some of our youth are not academics and we might envision. Perhaps some are more “hands on”, trending more towards vocations, starting their own businesses, and who knows what. But much of this starts right in the home. What kids see around them becomes their reality. So, along the years, I learned, I researched, I read, I listened, and thought for myself. It takes time. One needs to spend time with family and friends, have hobbies, and help others. I learned much in a variety of jobs that brought more to my university education. But along the way, watching programs filled with meaning, understanding and reading about history, and taking the time to truly observe truly enriches one’s life and brings more. Yes, you will see the upsides and downsides. One might even wish they hadn’t opened their eyes and remained unaware. But the hope is for you and for the next generations. There’s another thing worth considering. In learning, one will have to be patient. Depending upon subject matter, one has to sift through that which is truly meaningful and that which is distracting. But with patience, remembering the important things in your life, remembering to laugh and not take everything too seriously, but take serious the import of understanding and learning, over time, you might find interests growing and reading a couple of hours at night before seeing the sandman. This then encourages our youth to find their way. It’s a process.
Every day, one never knows what will happen. A week back, a friend and I were having a conversation, hanging out at another friend’s shop. Sometime later, a teenager walked in, sitting at the back, reading. She is the daughter of a woman who knows my friend, the one who owns the shop. Apparently, sometimes she stops by to read, sometimes with a friend, and her mother stops by occasionally.
Well, my friends and I were talking about history, hobbies, education, and a lot of other things. At one point, the young lady had some comments. Somewhere along the way, she shared the view that she didn’t think teachers should be telling the students what to do, that it’s for each person to find their own way. I think she also shared this about other topics, including church and future vocations. She also didn’t like writing, believing at the time it was tedious and unnecessary.
So, I thought. My friend was the first to respond, and I listened. After some time, I explained that I had taught for many years. I explained that there is no perfect system. However, within the framework of school, my job is to ensure the students have their basic skills, but also to provide lessons that truly teach quality information, that I also encourage them to think for themselves. Through quality writing, understanding grammar, we demonstrate understanding, good communication abilities, but also attention to detail which helps open doors in many fields. By writing good essays, stories, and such, we show and practice an ability to think. And, if we aren’t interested in the topics at school, we can always practice essay writing on our own, with topics we like.
Then, I shared that I knew of twelve year olds that have their own businesses, some even already well-to-do. My job, I explained, is to teach and encourage until the students have quality information but also find their own paths. My job is to provide a good foundation of work ethics, so they grow up understanding the value of hard work and creativity, that without a direction (Hopefully, they find their own way.), nothing happens. I explained that if she has her own interests, she can chart her own paths, in whatever direction, then she will need us less because she’s becoming her own person. Often, those who haven’t learned the value of determination and hard work early in life find life difficult when they are adults. The early lessons can last a lifetime.
After some time, after my friends and I continued our separate conversations, she returned and started talking about things she was interested in (I believe music and the medical field were too of the things she mentioned.). She was talking and talking, explaining this and that.
I said that’s it. I said, that’s what I try to do. You’re sharing what’s interesting and meaningful to you. Not to me. It’s not about me. It’s about what you want to do. You see, I don’t want the students to do something in life to make me happy, although I am happy when they find their own paths as when a former grade school student, now in his twenties, explained that he remembered me and the encouragement I gave him, though I was strict in requiring work be completed (I always had interesting assignments when they completed the main work, which varied in interest.). I explained that she is to find something that works for her. Once she has found her way, my job is done. I continue to teach quality lessons, but she can research and find more about the field(s) she’s interested in, and doesn’t have to wait until years later to do this. It’s all on her, I explained. She gets to decide. But with life comes responsibility.
We all come into the world hearing this and that. The television tells us things. Our friends tell us things. Our teachers tell us things. Books tell us things. We get information from everywhere. It’s up to each of us to hear, listen, understand, but find our own paths. Often, if we are open, the career can find us. Simply by being interested and willing to try. Hobbies. Part-time work. Reading. Helping the neighbors. And more.
My friend, the store owner: His son, after graduating from high school, finally found his interests in attempting a few jobs. Just by looking, the interests found him.
A friend recently shared some interesting insights. Understanding is like being yourself. Kids have it. Teens have it. But often, they wonder why the adults don’t see what they see. They run around, looking under rocks for bugs, watching butterflies, creating games and make-believe, making comments some of us find cute or “we’ve heard that before.”
We’re born with this thing called understanding. It’s like seeing and knowing without any intellectual input. We just know. They’re often the “ah haa” moments in our lives. Hmmm…. I wonder why my grades aren’t better. Wait. Ah haaa…. If I look for the key points, find what the author is trying to say, all the other information will come together. Ah haaa….
As one who has taught and coached, I look for those “ah haaa” moments. Now, there is a great point here. Once you understand something, it becomes a part of you. If you learn something by rote, cramming for tests, you might ace them, but most forget the information within a short time. But, if you understand something, it’s forever with you. Yes, you might forget the details, but later, upon review, all of it returns. Like riding a bike. And you don’t have to think about it. Just enjoy the adventure. Enjoy discovery. Don’t look back.
Understanding is like knowing without knowing how you know. It’s like when I was told gravity is like a swinging bucket of water. Nice analogy, but intuitively I knew the explanation was not sufficient. And I didn’t doubt that innate understanding. Later, much later, I read scientific writings that supported what I knew so many years earlier.
Do you know it has been said that bees should not be able to fly. Based upon their dimensions, those tiny wings, they shouldn’t be able to fly. But bees haven’t learned this. They just go about, knowing without knowing how they know. They just fly. But I took this one step further. I realized their size has something to do with that, that perhaps if the dimensions were increased a thousand fold, perhaps they wouldn’t be able to fly, unless they didn’t know better. But they’re so tiny. Hmmm….
One more thought. Encourage understanding, then as a teacher, you will see teaching becoming easier and perhaps more enjoyable. The kid’s and teens’ own motivation will the the energy as they see their own self-motivation. Understanding is like energy, recharging, engaging, and full of new understandings.
Looking up at the sky, at night, wondering how those planets and stars became, how long they took to form: quasars, nebulas, and much, much more. We know the moon revolves around the Earth, but 250,000 miles away, how does it remain? Yes, we have read the text, were taught in schools, but just look at it. It’s there: 30 planets a way. Always remaining, same speed, same face, always. And planets? The size and density have much to say regarding the core. Jupiter? Although cold, it actually puts out more heat then it receives from the sun.
The heart: amazing. Four chambers. Constantly working. Beating all of the time. Probably wondering why all too many of us feed it what is doesn’t like, but that is another area of wonder: what can we eat and drink that our hearts like? Valves. Arteries and veins. All working together with the nervous system, working together with all the other systems. Lungs. Amazing. How many people are aware of the effects of stress on our bodies, but that there is healthy and unhealthy stress?
Those of us that have taught, how often think what that entails? We see. How often have we ever thought what that entails? The eye. Amazing. Lens, retina…. How complex is the retina? Somehow, the orb is of perfect shape for those of us with 20/20 vision, the lens perfectly sending light to the retina, which somehow knows how to take all those light waves and send them perfectly through the optic nerves. Somehow, our brains know how to puzzle through all those tiny impulses and bring together perfect images. So we don’t bump our heads. We can read. And we can communicate with one another.
Teaching is a great profession, the possibilities endless. Taking the time to research, learn, and bring forth understanding to the class and students. Teaching writing can be a wondrous experience. Having something to write about can add to the papers, spurring discussions and ideas for careers. With interesting topics comes additional interest by the students hearing. She said what about music? He said what about the kidney? It does what and how? A cell. A tiny little factory. Wow.
The classroom affords the opportunity for students to learn the basics, then lessons to grow. What leads students to want to learn? Curiosity? A world right before them? Wonders? And when understanding enters, the opportunities to learn even more brings forth new opportunities. That “ah haa” experience is wondrous. It makes the information come alive.
The next time one eats, consider all that is happening, from taste (How does that happen?), the food breaking down, and nourishment. Then, we might wonder what are in those products we buy. Children and teens wonder. Teachers, with their education but also ongoing research can add to that wonder. I can remember, at times, discussing topics, later finding out some of the students found their interests and careers. When teachers wonder, it encourages the others.
While ensuring mastery of basics, providing quality lessons, encouraging creativity and critical thinking, with time available, here are some thoughts and questions to bring out the kid in your students. Of course, a little curiosity, research, and discussion might bring the topics out. Some of the best teachers I have known, and/or worked with, were always inquisitive and learning.
When you jump up, what brings you back to Earth? Gravity? Okay, and the moon, which is 250,000 miles away, 30 planet Earths, and very heavy, what keeps it going around the Earth, especially when a tiny rocket, free floating, doesn’t get pulled back?
Look at an atom. It has protons and neutrons in the center. Little electrons orbit the nucleus, forever. What makes the electrons go around and around, never stopping?
Why is everything in the universe in orbit, rotating, or revolving?
We see water on the ground. We see clouds, which are molecules that went back up from the planet. But we have gravity. Why do those molecules rise when gravity pulls things down?
Except for human beings, just about every land animal runs around on all four. Why four? Why not three or five?
Watch a colony of ants. We see some ants, alone and searching. We see others remaining with the main colony, doing this and that. How do ants know what to do?
What do you want to do when you grow up? If you don’t know, write a list of things you like, hobbies you take part in, and things you would like to try. Then, make a list of jobs and careers and see if you can match your interests with careers/jobs. Then research the ones you like.
I’ve also had students create cities, island communities, write their own plays (acting them out), and other ideas that teachers created. Sometimes, from these, the students will create more ideas.
Curiosity spurs ideas and research.
Last week, while a couple of us were hiking in the mountains, I stopped along to watch some ants building and constructing. It reminded me of when I was a child. I was mesmerized by the industriousness of these little creatures, going this way and that, stopping to communicate with other ants, all busy all the time. Yes, I’ve read about these creatures. So tiny and yet every one knowing what to do from birth. Different jobs. All working together. Amazing.
Just the other evening, we were watching a show about the solar system. The main people were invested in finding life on other planets. They were considering sending probes to moons of Jupiter and Uranus that seem to have some characteristics that might indicate conditions that have life implications. Mars was certainly a consideration.
Within fossils, dna doesn’t stand much of a chance. But apparently, some characteristics can remain, even in very old fossils.
As we watched, we wondered at the factors that must go into such endeavors, including costs, but also all the research scientists here on Earth expend as they learn more and more. It just is all amazing. And yes, again, I’ve spent my share of time in years past reading about the most basics of life forms, conditions necessary for life, and just how complex the simplest of life forms are. For instance: a single cell. Amazing. All the parts with all the responsibilities, all working together, the dna (incredibly long and filled with directives) giving commands. Amazing.
Then, later, I wondered at the dna necessary to tell this one ant, a loner ant, out searching for the colony, who would later inform the colony and the rest would arrive should there be food or other needs. All working together. No school for them to attend. Just dna.
I’m thankful that after all the years of teaching I remain fascinated by what goes on in the world. Even a galaxy, planets in a swirl, planets going around their suns among all the other solar systems, infinite other worlds and galaxies. Like looking up at the sky, at night, realizing the stars we’re seeing might be somewhere else as that light might have taken thousands, even millions of years to arrive.
How a heart works. How the kidney functions. How so much more there is.
Whether you’re a homeschool parent, a tutor, a teacher, or just interested, we can all be fascinated by what is out there. We can all marvel at how amazing everything is. And I dare say, there will never come a day where we’ll know everything, but the marveling is the true adventure. And for those teaching, this can be shared and encouraged in the classroom. For what young people find interesting leads from doors to doors to what they do in life: as vocation or avocation.
I shared this story once before, but it’s well-worth a second. I was teaching a third grade class, wonderful kids, when one boy raised his hand. We were in the middle of talking about planets and other celestial objects, relating the science lesson to our own wonders, and he asked what is space.
Well, since they were only in the third grade (I thought he was asking something more, but I decided to answer simply.), I explained that space is all that emptiness where the stars and planets move. However, the next instance truly surprised me.
He said, “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean, what is space?” I could see the difficulty he was having in trying to phrase his question. But I got it. I kind of got it before, but I’ve never heard such a question from our youth.
So, I turned to look at the rest of the students. I get it. He’s not asking about all those stars and stuff. He wants to know what (and I held up my hands) is this thing called space: this emptiness between two floating in space is. There’s no air up there. No molecules, except random stuff. He smiled. I wondered if he had asked this before but no one got him.
At the time, I explained, from my perspective, there must be something between the two astronauts. It can’t be nothing. It there was nothing between two hands held up in space, the two hands would have to be “stuck” together. Only then, could there be nothing. So, I ventured they consider something fills up all that apparent emptiness above. Perhaps dark matter scientists talk about. Perhaps a kind of energy we can’t detect. Who knows? I think he liked the answer, but was still curious.
Some kids want to start a business. Some kids are interested in animal care. Some kids want to know what makes a heart tick. Others want to dance, perform gymnastics, play sports, work with many others, and so forth. The list is endless. And sometimes, open discussion provides the opportunity for minds to express themselves. And once in a while, we get a really “out of the box” question through which opens the other kids’ minds to curiosity and wonder. What else is there to know? Then, they go to the library, look online, and perhaps ask those in the profession. Wonder about space? Why not send a letter to NASA?
Well, at times, I ask them to wonder, research, and ask those tough questions. Bring them to me, and when there is time, we can share.
Teaching the basics is important. Developing academic skills is necessary. And curiosity, wonder, and thoughtful deliberation brings forth more which might be the direction these kids move towards. One thing leading to another. One never knows. And if the children are allowed and encouraged to consider….