Early in my teaching career, I was assigned to teach English at a junior high in East LA, a suburb of Los Angeles where newly arrived immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico crowded the local schools.
I picked up enough Spanish to have casual conversations with my students. More than fifty percent of them were born in the US, but their education had not been constant. Often, families would spend months visiting relatives in their homeland, and by the time the child returned to school. the curriculum and course of study had moved on.
I learned a great deal about students' lives at that time, but not enough to change how hos ineffective I was as a teacher. I assigned, covered the material, and gave grades. When the children failed to turn in homework, I asked no questions. I just punished them with a fail for each missing assignment. They had earned whatever grade they earned because they had not done their homework, and had not studied enough for their tests.
Years later, my son Brian taught me the biggest lesson I would ever learn. Though a very bright child, he would complain that his teacher assigned work, but never showed them how to do it. You see, he was a kinestetic learner, taking things apart to see how they worked, rather than opening a manual and reading the instructions one line at a time. He had followed his older siblings around the house, trying to imitate what they were doing, not afraid to make mistakes and trusting his instincts. He had been socialized to do things together. Going to a quiet room to get a page of homework finished was not an easy task for him.
I, on the other hand, believed all knowledge comes from books, and following intricate instructions, practicing each skill before attempting bigger tasks was the way to go.
Brian learned to read by constructing models of cars, planes, looking at pictures, identifying parts and functions and by trial and error to get the assembly together and functioning. At the end of the task, he could read every word in the manual. We cooked and wrote recipes down at the end of the meal, each ingredient's name memorized and spelled correctly. Brian would often volunteer to fix anything around the house. He loved competitions and as a member of his high school Academic Decathlon Team, he brought home team and individual gold medals. His curiosity was boundless. We were not surprised when he decided to major in Physics in college. His father and I fed his imagination and provided many opportunities for him.
I wonder how many parents and teachers are still naive as I was, expecting their children to learn and succeed the way they did.