Jennifer Anne Clark, M.Ed.

Educational Consultant and Advocate, p3 Productions, LLC

Blog? Why not?!

To teach is to learn...

Posted by Jennie Clark, M.A.Ed, P.D.S, Professional Learning Consultant on February 17, 2013 at 7:55 PM

To teach is to learn...


I find myself having to explain the concept of homework to my kids a lot lately. My first approach is to explain that there are twenty-plus kids in the class and the teacher needs to get an idea of who understands and who doesn’t. If everyone does their homework and turns it in then the teacher can see how each person processed the lesson. “But why do we have to do it at home? Why can’t we just turn in our work at school?” So I go on to explain that it’s easy to do the work while you are still there, with the teacher nearby and the notes still scribbled on the board, but when you get home and you’ve had a few hours to not think about it, what do you remember? Homework makes you think about the lesson again. Sometimes, it’s easy and we get it, and other times we end up having to figure it out all over again. Either way, the thought process that surrounds homework helps embed the information and knowledge further into your brain, helping you learn and remember.


My kids are still not impressed. “Fine,” I say. “Just think of it this way: the teacher giving you homework only leads to the teacher having homework because they have to grade what you produce. So if you are mad at the teacher for giving you homework - write a lot so they have to read more and it will take them longer.” They just roll their eyes - not buying it, I guess.


I know that they know the value of practice and homework, but they still dread it just the same, hence the litany that gets repeated in our dining room at least once a week. The funny thing is, that in my years of teaching and all the classes I took to become an educator, we never really discussed homework, or at least there were no meaningful, memorable conversations on pros vs. cons of assigning homework or what kind of things to assign or anything like that. I’ve read articles throughout my career, but it’s only in recent years when I’ve had to teach my kids about the value of homework did I really have to discover it for myself. So in enlightening them, I learned and gained a better understanding.


I’ve seen this play out more and more - all those lectures and statements and the answers to ‘why do I need to know this?’ playing out in daily life (or at the very least in my kids’ homework.) The most obvious example is math. I hate math. I majored in English, I cried in Math. Math was the enemy until my Sophomore year in college, when I took a math course that was more about logic and theory and the history of certain math applications. For the first time, someone was giving me a ‘why’ and something to think about and a new way to approach math. It was actually fun. Only decent math class - ever. In 17 years of schooling. That’s sad.


I have spent a lot of time in the past 10 years tutoring individuals who hate math, like me. I should call it “Math for Haters”, but basically it’s the basics. It all comes back to the basics, always. If you don’t have good foundations, you can’t build. So what did I learn? To some extent, the nuns had something right. Memorizing the times tables might have been a Godsend. It has served me well to know that 8x7 is 56 - to just know that. Being able to recall those numbers quickly has been helpful in surviving the rest of the math world. Unfortunately, that is the end of the positives in my math experience.

In second grade, we learned to divide. Well, the rest of my class was taught the process and picked it up. I didn’t. I cried because I needed to understand why we were dividing. What was I supposed to do with this calculation? No one could explain it to me. I think that if someone had found the right words, the right way to say that ‘there are thirty cookies and fifteen children and we need to share evenly, so how many would they each get?’ or spent some time with me to just let the light bulb come on, instead of putting numbers on paper and expecting me to just ‘get it’ I wouldn’t hate math so much. But, instead there was a lot of yelling (mom), and I think my dad tried to teach me Chemistry in the process because whatever he did to help just confused me more. They didn’t know how I learned. They didn’t understand, the teachers didn’t understand.


I have spent many years researching learning styles and methods of teaching that reach each person in a way that really speaks to their needs. Additionally, I develop practice to continue the lesson in a way that actually means something to that person. And the funny thing is, I actually enjoy teaching math. I will only teach it to individuals, or small groups if I have to, but I make sure that I am able to apply the concepts in a way that is really going to make sense to that individual. The funny thing is, all this time spent finding different resources and studying the math and practicing so I could explain it better, I have actually gotten better at math. I find that I can group numbers and process them faster. I have a better understanding because of my teaching. I’m no math whiz, but I feel more confident in my skills, and definitely in the basics.


I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t want to be the sage on the stage, I’d rather be the guide on the side, helping people ask the right questions and find their own answers. That’s what I’ve learned about myself - what do you want to learn today?

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