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The Seven Laws of the Teacher

When I was in high school, I had the privilege of taking a “how to teach” class from one of our school’s elementary teachers. I took the class because I was considering majoring in elementary education in college, so I wanted to see if I would like it or not. My teacher was one of those ladies that has a lot of “with-it”-ness in her teaching. She made her classes interesting. Her students loved her. She was in control in the classroom, with a certain degree of strictness, yet she really cared about each student and made sure that they were all learning.

For those of us high school students who took her class, she used as her text the classic book by John Milton Gregory, the Seven Laws of Teaching. Lately I was thinking about that book and wishing I could see it, since not only am I a mother of seven but I’m my children’s school teacher as well. How excited I was to find out that the Seven Laws of Teaching can be read for free on Google books!

I have a similar book on my shelf by Howard Hendricks, called The Seven Laws of the Teacher. I bought this book in college, in a class for educational psychology. I’m not a big fan of psycho-babble psychology, but our professor was one of those teachers who changed my life, probably because he really “got” what Dr. Hendricks was saying in his book.

As homeschooling mothers, are we great teachers? Do we work hard to not only provide our children with good curriculum but also to diligently teach our children effectively?

Sometimes when I’m at church, around young children, I’m very careful to smile, to hug, and to be interested in what they’re saying. Yet when I get home around my own kids, I’m too tired to smile, to busy to hug, and too disinterested to listen to their jabbering. God has been convicting me that I need to give the best I have to my own children.

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7, ESV).

God is very clear that we are to teach our children diligently. The Hebrew word for “diligently teach” means to pierce, to poke, and to infiltrate. What strategies can we use to be sure that the things we’re teaching our children sink deeply into their hearts?

The first law of the teacher, both Milton and Hendricks agree, is that a teacher can’t teach what she doesn’t know.

“The teacher must know that which he would teach…. Imperfect knowing must be reflected in imperfect teaching.” – John Milton Gregory

“If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.” – Howard Hendricks

Yes, you’re a mother, and that means you have a lot of work in the house to do (dishes, laundry, bills to pay, errands to run), but especially if you’re homeschooling, you have a huge responsibility for the quality of your teaching.

“…Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Isn’t that a convicting thought? My children, when they are grown, will be like me. (Yikes…)

“I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.” – Howard Hendricks

As you think about your own growth as a learner, here are some things to consider:

  1. What am I passionate about? How can I take these passions and relate them to the things I’m teaching?
  2. How well do I know the subjects I’m teaching? If I don’t know them well, what I am doing to change that?
  3. How can my love for learning awaken a love for learning in my students?

Howard Hendricks shares this story of an 86-year-old woman:

The last time I saw her on planet earth was at one of those aseptic Christian parties. We were sitting there on eggshells, looking pious, when she walked in and said, ‘Well, Hendricks, I haven’t seen you for a long time. What are the five best books you’ve read in the past year?’

She had a way of changing a group’s dynamics. Her philosophy was, Let’s not bore each other with each other; let’s get into a discussion, and if we can’t find anything to discuss, let’s get into an argument.

She was eighty-three on her last trip to the Holy Land. She went there with a group of NFL football players. One of my most vivid memories of her is seeing her out front yelling back to them, ‘Come on, men, get with it!’

She died in her sleep at her daughter’s home in Dallas. Her daughter told me that just before she died, she had written out her goals for the next ten years.

Some “rules” for developing yourself as a teacher, paraphrased from Milton’s book are:

  1. Study fresh. Did you teach phonics two years ago? Take some time to “freshen up” your mind before you teach it again. Has it been 21 years since you took Algebra I? You probably need some review!
  2. Relate the known to the unknown. What do you already know a lot about? How can you make connections in your brain to the new information?
  3. Study until you can rephrase it clearly. Knowing something well means that you can put it in your own words.
  4. Find the natural order. Anything makes more sense when it’s in order. When you’ve got a recipe in order in your mind, you do a better job cooking it, right?
  5. Make it practical. How have you used fractions in real life? Why did you need to learn geography?
  6. Don’t stop trying until you really understand. Don’t give up when you’re only halfway. Take the time to make sure you’re comprehending completely.
  7. Set aside the time you need for study. Learning takes time. It doesn’t happen by osmosis, by placing books under your pillow. You need time in your life to grow, to read, to reflect. Build some margin for self-education into your schedule.
  8. Use the “six serving men.” That’s what one of my teachers called these questions, which you should ask of yourself when learning something new: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
  9. Read widely. Find the best scholars on a topic and read what they’ve written.
  10. Discuss with others. Whether by email or in person, you will learn better what you’ve talked about with others.

Moms, are you still growing? Are you growing intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually (see Luke 2:52). Beware of being too tired to care, too busy to invest, and too bored to discover.

P.S. What are the five best books YOU’VE read in the last year?

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  1. I take a different approach, I focus on showing my kids how to learn rather than trying to fill them with everything they need to know. There won’t be enough time when they’re home to teach them everything so I want them to know how to teach themselves. I teach them to read and then provide the material. I don’t have to brush up on algebra because they are teaching themselves. Doesn’t mean I don’t study anything– I model that as an adult I still need to learn new things. I learn what interests me (nutrition, DIY plumbing, gardening) as these are things I need to run our household right now. I don’t have time to revisit algebra, except when I use it calculate how much fertilizer I need for our garden, lol.

    People ask me if I’m going to homeschool my kids thru high school, how am I going to teach Calculus and all that? I seriously have no worries about the high school years because we have so many excellent books to learn from. (90% of my knowledge came after high school, when I discovered “how to learn” instead of memorizing random facts from a text book or lecture just to pass a test.)

  2. Anne Elliott says:

    I see what you’re saying. Remember, though, that you have to TEACH your children how to learn for themselves. They don’t naturally know how to do this. You did that for your children when they were younger, which is excellent. Also, you are their “teacher” in many areas, not all academic. Just living your life in front of them “teaches” them many things. As teachers, we’ll be more effective if we are growing and learning ourselves.

  3. I think we both agree, I just got hung up on the Algebra example. I hear so much from other moms who are worried about teaching their children every single subject and every little fact so there are no holes in their education. And then those moms might read that they have to master each of those subjects, producing even more worry and panic and guilt. I just come from the perspective that there will be holes in my children’s education, there will not be enough time to teach them everything they’ll need in life. But there is time to teach them how to learn, so they can get everything they need when they need it. Which was way off topic from your post : )

  4. Anne Elliott says:

    No, I’m glad you said it! It’s very true! The funny thing is that I got hung up on your comment where you said that we just need to provide the material for them to learn. I’ve found that my kids just aren’t inspired to learn on their own unless I provide a little oomph and motivation to get them started. LOL! I’ve wondered if my kids are the only ones who aren’t naturally motivated some of the time. (Yes, sometimes they are… just depends on the subject, I guess.) But I have to TEACH them HOW to learn, and you know? It’s really hard to find a balance between just spoon feeding and the other extreme of totally ignoring them if I have a lot of laundry to catch up on. I think the middle is probably the best place to be.

    Thank you for posting!!!! It was wonderful to hear your input!

  5. I hear you, there is a balance. My kids aren’t naturally motivated all the time either, unless the subject is captivating, it’s hard to get that mind stretching and connecting new points. Most days their motivation is to get done so they can go out and play.

    I might have sounded like we unschool–just throw out some bright base 10 blocks on the table and hope they teach themselves Calculus : ) We do have a structured math time where they are required to work thru one lesson a day. It’s just that I’m not sitting next to them teaching them, they are learning from the book. Once in awhile they get stuck and I’ll help them. But as they get older, I show them how to look up in other books how to solve the problem (maybe one text book explains the concept better than another) or give them the base 10 blocks to see the concept in action.

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