April 24, 2010

Touching Minds

For the last five years our family has been part of the same homeschool cooperative.  This is one of my kids favorite parts of being home schooled.  They love their friends there, they enjoy the teachers and they enjoy the variety of classes being taught.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with some other students teaching topics I love.  Some of these students I have had for multiple years. As I sat at a table yesterday across from some teenagers that I have now taught since they were 11 and 12 years old along with a new crop of students I am getting to know I thought about how much I enjoy spending time with these kids.

For a few short moments we get to touch minds about topics that are interesting to them and engage in conversation that I hope challenges them and helps them to grow and think about things.  One of my favorite parts of teaching anyone is when you are able to witness those light bulb moments, when it all clicks together in the mind of a person and you can see it on their face.  When you watch someone have the realization that they knew something or truly understand something, that is a beautiful moment.  I have been blessed by so many of those moments through this cooperative.  I have had the blessing of interacting with some of these students from the time they were 11 and 12 years old until now 16 and 17.  I have seen some graduate and move on and I still like the moments when I can see them or interact with them on intellectual topics.  I love seeing the growth and the way young minds develop and sharpen.

I am not a main teacher for any of these kids.  I will not have been a major or even a minor influence or even remembered by many of them.  Still there were moments when they learned things that I know will be further built upon in their lives and for that I am thankful.  I am thankful for the small moments when they learned to look at something from a different point of view, learned to be able to articulate their thoughts better, or gained a new understanding of a concept they may have not considered before.  Those are the gifts our students give us and those are the things that make it all worth while.

One of the greatest things about our cooperative is the freedom to teach whatever class we want and the ability to tailor it to the student's interests.  Over the past five years I have taught the younger, middle and older levels of students, having taught at the 2nd-4th grade level, 5th - 7th grade and 8th through high school level.

I do love teaching the younger kids and have the energy and creativity to do so and some of those classes have been among my favorite as I watch kids be introduced to new topics and find excitement for history or literature that they never thought was there before.  The classes I taught the younger students will be the topic of another post.

Today I am thinking more of the older classes, the high school level ones, mostly because I realized yesterday that several students would be moving on from cooperative and they were some of the first ones I had.  I realized yesterday one my students took almost every single class I offered at his level for the past 5 years.  I sometimes joked with him "Aren't you bored of me yet?"  They do get to choose their classes so they do not need to take a class with me.

Over the years I have taught classes about The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, Teen Christian Music, Research, Argument, Current Events, Advertising, and Movie Criticism.  I try to take topics kids naturally like or are easily interested in and then teach them something through the course of the class.  For instance movie criticism, star wars and narnia all really ended up teaching literature and literary concepts.  Teen Christian Music introduced some poetry and analysis and in current events, research and argument I encouraged them to pick any topic of interest to them even if it may not be traditional.

The thing I most enjoyed was class discussion and watching the students test out their ideas on each other and on me.  Watching some students gain a confidence in their ideas and their abilities.  It has been interesting to watch them mature over the years and see the difference in depth of their answers and analysis.  So many sharp minds make for interesting discussions.  While I will miss interacting with some students and still miss some from years past, I love getting to know a whole new crop of students and getting to see a glimpse of where their minds take them.  Watching someone interact with material and other people in an intelligent way is one of my favorite things.  Being able to help offer opportunities and encouragement for those interactions is one of the biggest blessings I receive as a teacher.  It makes all the work I put into a class well worth it.

I love that I teach my own children at home.  I love that I get to see those light bulb moments all the time here with my own children, it is powerful.  I also like that my kids get the opportunity to learn from and experience other teachers and their teaching styles and interact and share their ideas with other kids.  Homeschooling with attendance in a regular cooperative has been a good combination for us.

There are days when I really miss being part of the debate community I spent so many years as a young adult in.  I miss being surrounded by smart, engaged and interesting people who wanted to discuss, debate and think about a wide variety of topics.  I miss the constant interaction and testing of ideas.  The iron sharpening the iron.  I know my own background in debate heavily influences the way I approach and teach my classes to the high school students.  I try to encourage them to do that to each other and try to let them discuss and lead as much as possible using guided questions or probing challenges so they will interact and work it out with each other.

My favorite age of mind is from about 13-23 or so.  Those ten years (with a few on either end for some) are so formative and to watch the mind work is very interesting.  So many ideas are being tested, independent opinions and factual judgements are being formed on so many topics.  It is as if the mind is sprouting wings, discovering them, deciding which way to point, flying off, falling and picking back up again, sometimes resetting a new course or trying the old one with new energy.  So many people don't enjoy people of this age group but I really do, they are some of my favorite people and I almost always feel refreshed after walking away from a discussion with people in that age group.  Teenagers and college students, I have loved them since I was a debate coach and I think I always will because of what is going on in the mind. Forget about the hormones, crazy behavior, and other annoying habits and try to touch those minds with yours for just a moment and you will come away rewarded and possibly challenged yourself, I know I always do.  Thank you to all of you who have blessed me over the years.


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  2. I think it is beautiful what you have done for those kids. You gave me ideas on what to teach my own kids at home. I also give you props for being able to teach teenagers. I agree that we should forget about the crazy behavior, but it just difficult to ignore.