The thought of teaching algebra sends shivers up my spine—the kind you get when you hear a tire blow, and you know that you and the boatload of kids you’re toting around are going to be stranded on the narrow shoulder of a busy road for hours unless you make yourself get out of the van and find that pump-up thingy that goes somewhere under the van to lift it up so you can fight with a long metal doo-dad and rusted bolts and gravel in your knees and mud on your hands. That kind of shivers. Teaching physics gives me shivers, too, but of a slightly different sort that I won’t go into just now.
But give me a short story to break down into its basic elements, a novel to explore, or a writer’s device to teach, and I’m as happy as a slobbery puppy with a new slipper.
We all have very definite strengths and areas of expertise.
We all have subjects we love to teach. Cozy up to yours in a big way. Don’t be afraid that if you enjoy these strengths with your children, you won’t be doing justice to subjects that are less natural for you to teach.
Do you get a kick out of phrases such as “graph this equation” or “solve for X”? Do you know the difference between Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keefe? Do you go into raptures when you sing, “Oh the bile from the liver, it emulsifies the fat,” to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Do you know when to use baking powder and when to use baking soda? Do you know all the verses to “The Boll Weevil” and sing them to your children when you study American history? Do you know the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning? Do you love to cook and to open your house to visitors? Do you know what Bookman Old Style and Showcard Gothic mean, and are you always designing ads and billboards in your head?
The truth is that we mothers/teachers are all good at something, perhaps even extremely good.
All of the examples I have in the above paragraph are taken from real people I actually know. You might be thinking that I know a lot of strange people, and I might not argue with you. But I find them highly interesting people, too.
Something very strange happens when you enjoy your area of strength: Your kids pick up on it automatically and unconsciously.
Let me give you some examples from my own children.
When my college freshman son called from California to tell me that he’d just finished his preliminary testing and had tested out of his English course, I almost broke my arm trying to pat myself on the back. Years earlier, this same son had hauled and dragged a basketball-size rock from a field a quarter of a mile away. He wanted to show me the interesting striations in it, and he wanted to keep it. (I have collected rocks since I was in fourth grade.) When he had his first college spring break, he brought his California friends 2000 miles to meet his Hoosier friends and to see some of the beauty of Indiana and its parks. (We often explored nearby woods or hiked in parks.) Another son had very eclectic tastes in music and found all sorts of interesting CDs at the library. (I like many different kinds of music and didn’t mind inflicting them on the children.)
It’s no different for my daughter. One day she perused a map and exclaimed, “I just love maps.” (I have over forty National Geographic maps covering everything from the ocean floor to the surface of the moon. Don’t get between me and a National Geographic map at a used-book sale.) When she encountered a new vocabulary word of interest to her, she would ponder out loud, “I wonder if that’s French.” (I love etymologies.) And she became quite adept at baking. (I love to try out new recipes.)
Believe me, my children are not little copies of me, but they picked up on my interests and strengths when I wasn’t looking. I was not even aware that as I enjoyed the woods, rocks, music, maps, words, and recipes with my children, they were absorbing my love for those things as well, simply because I took the time to enjoy them with the kids. Yet that is exactly what happened. Someday I will not be surprised to see them surpass me in their love for and knowledge in those particular areas.
Let loose in the area which interests you deeply.
Yes, we all have weak areas. Yes, we can find help in those weak areas so our children will not get behind in them. But imagine how far ahead they will be in the subjects that you know a lot about, in the interests that you love to pursue, in the areas where you are strongest! Imagine the gifts you will be giving them—a lively curiosity and a love of learning.
So stop shivering. Enjoy your strengths.
Sharon Watson is the author of Apologia’s Jump In, which appears in Cathy Duffy’s 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Her popular course The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School was reviewed by TOS’s Review Crew in early 2013. When she isn’t avoiding cleaning her desk, Sharon enjoys attending hot air balloon events with her husband or playing with their two delightful granddaughters.