The Practice of Life

Yesterday while working with Em (we are learning about American Indians) I had a moment of panic.  I thought, I have no idea what I’m doing here.  I don’t know how to teach this material.  I don’t know that she understands any of this.  

The more panicked I became, the more impatient I felt.  The more impatient I felt the more in touch with my anger I was.  When she randomly pointed to the wrong answer I said in a stern voice, “No!”  Emma doesn’t respond well to “No!”  I know this. But in that moment yesterday, I needed to take a break.  In that moment, neither of us were going to be well served by pushing ahead with the material.  It didn’t matter that I’d printed out more than a dozen photographs of various American Indians and the living structures different tribes used.  It didn’t matter that I’d prepared material to discuss how some planted and became farmers, while others fished and still others hunted buffalo.  None of it mattered because I was having feelings about how she should be able to learn it in the way I was teaching it, despite the fact that the way I was presenting the material was not the way I’ve been taught.

I was not, in that moment, able to practice patience and good teaching.  In addition to this, my thinking was my own worst enemy.  Whenever I begin to think in terms of fearful, projected thinking, and then ask questions such as, “what if she doesn’t understand this?”  or “why didn’t she know the answer to that question?”  I begin to feel impatient and then angry.  In that moment I was not able to see that I was asking the wrong questions.  In that moment I was not presuming competence in her ability to learn.  I know she can learn the material.  I have seen her learn all kinds of material.  This is an example of expectations, coupled with impatience and not teaching the material in the best possible way.

It is during moments like this that I need to take a break.  I know this.  It seems that this would be a fairly easy thing to recognize and then implement by saying something like.  “Oh, hey.  I need to take a break.  Let’s come back to this later.”  Or some other equally non-judgmental comment, but this isn’t easy for me nor does it come naturally.  I slide quickly into either self recrimination or fear and annoyance that she isn’t attending to the material (and me) in the way I would like.  *Breathe*  It’s okay.  You’re okay.  Just take a deep breath.  It’s all fine.  In moments such as this, it is vitally important that I take good care of myself so that I don’t do harm to those around me.  I’ve learned this.  I know this.  This is fact.

So I am writing all of this out here, not as a public flogging or because I’m seeking absolution, but as a gentle reminder to myself that the way I treat myself is the way I treat others.  It’s all practice.  My specific practice includes patience, remaining calm in the face of fear and annoyance.  Recognizing, without judgement, that I do not always behave the way I would ideally like.  Admitting and accepting that I am flawed.  And doing everything in my power to be the very best parent (and person) I can be.  I can’t rewind the tape of yesterday’s session, but I can acknowledge what happened and that I do have the tools to present the material differently this afternoon.

This lesson of patience and calm when my emotions are running in the red is one I have not yet mastered, but am working toward one day at a time.


18 responses to “The Practice of Life

  1. I needed to hear every bit of this. Thank you so much for always sharing y’alls story,

  2. Ha! I have been through this, so I totally get this scenario. Now, I take a step back or break into smaller steps, try different tactics, and, of course breaks are essential. For her and for me.

  3. True wisdom in teaching, I’m proud of you Ariane!
    My mantra has always been, no matter how much continuing education I receive, “my students are the ones that teach ME, how to teach THEM.”

  4. And your gut may be right…maybe she isn’t getting it. Sometimes we need to change the entire approach, which can be frustrating when you spend a lot of effort, time and energy into one approach and it fails (I have been there). The quote from the film Too Sane For This World…Aspie (who teachers herself things) “It’s about methods of learning. Sometimes people think that maybe they have learning disabilities but it might just actually may be the way things are taught.”

  5. I saw you do this being well paced, mellow and fun. So much of it is what you bring. Again with the acting analogies! But you nailed it in the post. Remember this: presume her competence and presume also your own. In the above passage you falter in confidence *for both of you* and I think this is significant. You are mother and daughter, two people, both competent (and extremely fun to hang out with). I hug you and do eye shield with Em. Love. Miss you all!

  6. “It’s all practice. My specific practice includes patience, remaining calm in the face of fear and annoyance. Recognizing, without judgement, that I do not always behave the way I would ideally like.”

    Yes, yes, YES! So much of what you wrote rings true to me. Presuming competence in the ability to learn is important, thank you for putting it into words. Even if I never say out loud, “I don’t think you can learn this,” it still is conveyed in my attitude and actions.

    When my son was learning about American Indians, we built a diorama. It was diorama-drama. High stress, and complete family involvement. And yet, in the end, he was able to demonstrate a depth of knowledge about the subject that amazed me. Arranging action figures is his forte!

    Hmmm…I’m going to have to try army guy math.

  7. Ariane, one of my more recent aha moments as a teacher, trainer, etc. was to realize that teaching and learning is not always about the right answer. Sometimes what is more important is the conversation about what is being taught. One part of this conversation could be the child/student giving feedback on what they are or are not understanding so they could say or type, “I don’t understand this”, “Explain this part to me more…”. “This doesn’t make sense” or more directly, “You’re not making sense.” So this might be something to support Em to do in the future in her communication with you and others during learning situations.

  8. Just curious…is Emma in school? I know that is a bit off topic with your post, but I was wondering why you were studying American Indians (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that) at home with her. I just started reading your blog on facebook (LOVE IT), so I haven’t had a chance to read all the old posts. My ASD son is 4 and will start kindergarten (well, Early Childhood) in the fall, so I am always interested in what people decide to do with schooling.

    • Em is in school. She’s actually in a very good school. We have been supplementing what she’s doing in school with additional lessons when she gets home. Eventually we expect to fade out the lessons at home. Em has, until this year, received almost no education from her old school, but now that she is at a school that is actually teaching her, this has changed.

  9. Given Emma is in a school where she is actually learning perhaps you could choose to augment only those things you feel comfortable with so you can teach her in a way that fits how she needs to be taught and feel good about how you did? The thoughts in a text book about American Indians change every decade anyway (assuming a similar level of change as in Canadian ones) and if it is something she is interested in she will be able to go after more knowledge later. I don’t know. Maybe I’m way off base there but augmenting the basics that would allow her to get knowledge more effectively herself seems more sensible at the moment.

    With the children I looked after who had learning issues we stuck for the most part with reading, writing and math although would of course help them prepare for a test. With those who’s issue was in the opposite direction I would teach them whatever caught their interest but use that interest again to build skills in the fundamentals (hence the summer where every single skill imaginable was somehow related to Pokemon…)

    I don’t know I never worried too much about what any of them learned with regards to social studies other than geography because history changes too much. When I was in school for example the view on Vikings was very focussed on them being cold blooded murderers, plundering and pillaging and so on. Nothing at all was said about trade and agricultural practices or even their arrival in North America prior to Columbus. I had to read those things in a book my father had. Now the view has swumg to an overly romantisized one but the truth is somewhere in between. My father seldom messed with my schooling beyond getting me out of kindergarten but he did provide the day I was frustrated for the third time in a row of having what I already knew to be somewhat untre presented as fact (we had been back to Denmark by then) drag down a 120 year old Danish history book.

  10. Lovely piece. A wise friend of mine once told me that she feels she is at her best as a parent when she makes mistakes, because it’s the most effective way to teach your kid(s) that errors are inevitable, not tragic, and almost always redeemable. Looks to me like you’re doing a fine job of raising a forgiving and resilient young woman. Kudos.

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