By Rodney McFadden, Senior Religion Teacher at Forest Lake Academy
The rain beat against the window in the dark hospital room. My wife, hours before, had just delivered little Journee. I could hardly sleep knowing that my baby girl was in the hospital crib right next to me and soon coming home with us. This little person would be totally dependent on us for everything in her life. I remember thinking, “Are we ready for this?” “Do we have all that we need?” We were jumping into raising our daughter like most first- time parents. We read a few books, observed family or friends with their children.
We said to each other, “We got this.”
But that first night when your child begins to cry and you are all alone with no parents or hospital nurses to help. You realize… “I know nothing.” I have learned that the same can be said about my experience as a teacher.
I was so excited to finally have my own classroom. Student teaching was now over. I had read all the required education books. I was ready! Ready to run through my classroom, jump on a few tables, and inspire the world with my passion and love for education. So I began my teaching journey like I’ve seen it done my whole life by family educators. I researched my subject area and planned for these great lectures. I would teach these students how to take notes the correct way. I had one style and that was old school. It worked for me. It should work for the students.
As my early years of teaching went on, I found success. The majority of my students seemed to enjoy my teaching style. I felt that if the majority of my students were doing well and thriving, then what and how I’m presenting must be effective.
But that was not the case.
I realized 10-15%of my students who were not connecting. In my mind, a great teacher should be able to connect with all his students. Not just the 85-9O% of my students who passed the end of the year exam. In the back of my mind the questions echoed. Am I really making a difference? What do I really know about teaching?
When Journee was close to two years of age, I began showing her flash cards with shapes, colors, names of animals and numbers. After going over the cards just a few times, Journee flourished with memorization skills. Within a matter of days she could identify each and every card. As time progressed she eventually taught herself how to read and write. With all of the books I had read and hours spent training as a teacher, I thought that I could whip my child’s mind into academic success. I learned that I had only presented her with a few flash cards. But she grasped concepts through discovery. Listening to music helped her read. She learned her colors by matching things up and lining them together. She was fascinated by sights and sounds and would often pause to take in new things that she hadn’t seen or heard before. By learning through her senses, her surroundings became her classroom. I realized that discovery learning was her method of education. My daughter was diagnosed with autism and speech delay. But by God’s grace her love for learning has overcome those challenges.
Everything I thought I knew about education I had to put on the shelf. I started to ask myself the tough question.
How do I truly reach these students?
Through the eyes of my daughter, I learned that we all learn in many different ways. Although my college courses had touched upon those concepts, I had not put them into practice. My quest began with Discovery Learning classes and workshops. These classes and workshops challenged me to approach teaching from a different perspective. I started to teach my subjects using hands on projects. These projects allowed my students to not just memorize material, but to discover topics through research and hands on experience.
One of the projects I created was the Ancient Bible Civilizations project. My students were able to learn about Bible characters by experiencing the time and culture through their senses. The students were paired in groups. Each group would choose an ancient city and had the task to build that city with any materials they had around their houses. Students would research the city to learn about the culture, food, and dress. Once students were done researching and building their cities, they would now present them to the class.
For the presentation, the students were required to dress like their ancient civilization and bring food that represented the people of that time. The students would share the information they learned with their classmates. This allowed them to teach and learn from each other.
It was such an amazing reward to see that the 10-15% of the students that were not being reached were now flourishing academically. By implementing Discovery Learning, I reached all my students in their own learning style. I learned that all students are able to grow if you, as the teacher, are willing to discover them as individuals.
As the rain continued to beat on the hospital window, with all of my worries and concerns about raising this precious angel, something happen to calm my nerves. I put my hand near her hand and she reached out and grabbed my finger. In that moment, I knew that all would be okay. She reached out to reassure me that in those moments when I realize that I don’t know anything, it would be okay, because she would teach me.