What fatherhood has taught me about teaching

ImageA short seven months ago I was fortunate enough to become a father to an absolutely amazing baby girl. When people told me you never know love until you have a child they certainty were right!

Watching our daughter grow and learn through the lens of a teacher has been an extremely valuable experience. Sometimes as a teacher it is tough to truly determine how much your students are learning. Are they just going through the motions with memorization and regurgitation, or is real learning taking place? As parents know, with a baby you can literally see them learn from one minute to the next. I have witnessed her stare at her hand in amazement and slowly move her fingers trying to gauge what they do, I have seen her learn to clap her hands by mimicking us, and most recently the progression from being up on her knees to rocking to crawling has taken place.

As I reflect on the past year I am realizing how much I have learned about how humans grow and develop at any age. Many of the assumptions I had about learning have been affirmed since entering fatherhood and I have also saw some things I didn’t expect to.

  • Failure and learning – You fall, you get back up. Babies have mastered this. Unfortunately I can’t always say the same thing about my high school students. They have been conditioned to think that failure is bad. I often ask them what the point of going to school would be if we knew everything…This is an important battle that we are fighting in our schools. Learning is messy, it is evident when you witness a baby try to crawl. It happens at different paces, it takes very different shapes, and that is ok.
  • Encouragement is a powerful drug – I knew positive reinforcement was important, but never to this degree. With a simple smile, head nod, or clap I feel my daughter would move a mountain for me. Even though verbal communication is a ways down the road those innate signals we give off saying ‘good job’ can easily be understood. I don’t think I do this enough with my students. I need to do a better job celebrating those small victories and find alternative ways to give encouragement.
  • Let them play – My wife and I have really tried to take the discovery learning approach with our daughter. Rather than show her how a toy can be used let her make her own ways up. This is tough, but fascinating. I catch myself doing this all the time in the classroom, giving everything away and not facilitating the learning instead. My hope is that when I let my daughter create her own meaning it will mean more to her. I also hope that this will help foster the most important 21st century skill, creativity.
  • Let them finish – As a first time parent we have received an abundance of gifts and as a result have plenty of toys for our daughter to play with. At times I catch myself trying to play with all of them at once! This is a classic case of over-parenting… she will be playing with some blocks and looks bored so I give her the linking rings and then comes her stuffy and then we’ll start reading her board books together and…whoa whoa whoa! Why do we as parents and teachers insist on doing this? On most occasions she can use play with a single block and be as happy as can be. I learned that my classroom does not need to bounce from one activity to the next, rather I need to let me students sink their teeth into the learning.
  • When in doubt get her Mom – Mom always makes things better! I wish this existed in my classroom. Things get a little dicey and I get mom to rescue me as she so often does with my daughter…

Happy New Year everyone, all the best in 2014!

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About flippingmath

Math Teacher, Flipper, Blue Jays Fan
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2 Responses to What fatherhood has taught me about teaching

  1. mrsduncansmathmagicians says:

    Love this post. I’m in the process of trying to flip my middle school math lessons. I too have found my students not doing the traditional homework or guessing if they didn’t understand. My question(s) for you is how long are your classes? Do you do genius hour everyday? Have you had a student not get finished repeatedly and be behind in your course? Thanks for sharing!

    • flippingmath says:

      Hello and thanks for comment.
      Our classes here are two back to back 80 minute blocks. That obviously affords some flexibility to have students for 2 and a half hours a day!
      I don’t do genius hour everyday. I have found it better to blitz it. As a result, I move away from the traditional learning we do in class and have students develop projects over an intensive two week genius hour time frame.
      I have had students be behind all year, but it is usually rare. In my experience I have just found that those students likely just needed more time, and my model allowed them to have that rather than being forced to demonstrate their understanding when they were not ready.

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