Heffner column: A new appreciation for teachers
The pandemic and shelter in place requirements have created jokes as well as worries. One in circulation about homeschooling: “My child just said ‘I hope I don’t have the same teacher next year.’” Another joke at mom’s expense.
The pandemic has created temporary teachers, most often mothers, actual teachers being the most criticized group after mothers. The need now to fill in for the real deal may develop a new appreciation for the challenges teachers face and the skills they bring to bear in meeting those challenges.
I was once advised by a number of young people that if I wanted to know about teachers, I should ask the kids. Following that advice, I had an interesting discussion with a high school student about the current situation of online school work and how it compares to attendance in classes.
My young informant reported that she enjoys the online work and finds it a welcome change from school days. However, comparing the experience of learning online to that of learning in class, she believes she is more engaged and “takes more in” from classroom instruction. Learning material online means she has to try harder to understand the material, whereas in school you can ask questions and the teacher helps you understand. It is easier to understand in person than it is by yourself from online content.
This high school student said it was different for children in grade school where it falls on parents to become teachers and teach the online material to kids. In school, each teacher has her own way of presenting the material to kids, so the teaching style varies. In the upper grades, the students become the teachers as they work to learn the content of various subjects online.
The young person with whom I spoke expressed feeling a lot of respect for teachers - more than before. She had never realized the impact the students have on the teachers and the level of their dedication. Apparently, in her school they have been receiving feedback from the teachers indicating how much they, the students, are missed.
In discussing her own reaction to the differences in teachers, she described what she sees as the motivation in their presentation of the content to be taught. Some teach because they believe the material is valuable in itself and important for you to know when you go out into the world. Others teach because there will be tests in the future to which you have to learn the answers.
Of course, in science and math they have to get through the basic material. There are right and wrong answers that have to be taught rather than an exploration of ideas as in social studies.
This young student, one clearly more interested in history and English than science and math, expressed her feeling that the best teachers are those who “teach me something about life.” This seems to suggest the idea of life lessons, which in turn may reflect values and philosophy. In any case, the transmission of something more than facts and specific content.
The point is, that despite differences in style and personality, teachers require something more than knowledge of specific content to be successful as educators of young people. Hopefully, their training prepares them to understand where children are at various stages of their development, to communicate facts and ideas in ways that will be understood, and to appreciate individual differences in learning while at the same time teaching a group.
Parents excel at knowing their own children. Teachers are trained to reach many. Praise to both!
Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. Dr. Heffner is the author of “Goodenoughmothering: The Best of the Blog,” as well as “Mothering: The Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism.” She is a psychotherapist and parent educator in private practice, as well as a senior lecturer of education in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Heffner was a co-founder and served as director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And she blogs at goodenoughmothering.com.