Parents, the first teachers

Whether you’re a seasoned homeschooling parent, someone new to homeschooling, or a teacher trying to figure out how to keep things classical while teaching remotely, it’s helpful to remember that teaching is an art, not a science. In other words, there’s no formula that can be learned in the abstract and then applied to teaching. Instead, teaching depends greatly on the circumstances, and to teach well is to create something in the mind of the student.

Different methods are required for different subjects, and of course the setting has a great deal to do with it too. Teaching in a classroom of 25 students is a very different thing than a one-on-one tutoring session, and teaching online is something else. So how should we begin to understand good teaching? Given the huge differences in subject and setting and student, what do good teachers all have in common?

One of my favorite books on the subject is The Art of Teaching, by Gilbert Highet. A few years ago at Founders Classical Academy of Leander, we read it as a faculty, and despite a few strange passages about categorizing students into types, it’s full of some good advice about being a teacher.

Highet makes a point that’s especially relevant these days: teaching is not the sole responsibility of teachers. If you think about it, parents are the first and most important teachers. From the moment a child is born, he or she learns from parents, and then from the older children and adults who are around.

Here’s Highet in his own words:

A great deal of teaching is done outside of school. Some things–and some of the most important things–are taught by mothers and fathers to their children. … It really begins when the baby gives his first cry and it is answered. In those days, before he can hear or see properly, he is finding out something about the world and himself.

Highet goes on:

Every father and mother do an astonishing amount of teaching. Their lessons cover the entire universe, from “Where is God?” to the use of soap, and have a lifetime effect. …In general the relation between parents and children is essentially based on teaching.

In other words, these circumstances we find ourselves in might not be so crazy after all. Parents, you’ve been teaching your children since they were born. You can do this.