Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teachers, I Bow to You

 “Treat me like you treat your teacher, NOT like you treat your mother!” I yelled.

When I heard these words come barreling out of my mouth a few weeks ago, I felt utterly defeated, both as a teacher and as a mother.  The statement was directed at my eye-rolling 6th and 4th grade children when I attempted to give them a writing assignment and they sprawled across the couch in their pajamas, moaning, “Ugh.....Mom, do we HAVE to?”  My wiser than wise 9-year-old daughter’s response to my outburst went something like this, “Maybe if you want us to start respecting you as a teacher, you should start respecting us as students!  Teachers are nice to us when they teach, just like you are nice to us when you tuck us in at night.”  Ouch, insert knife and twist.  That girl has a way of getting right to me, of pointing out the honest truth in the most brutal (and loudest) way possible.
Carmen during "P.E." class -
climbing and swinging.

The image I had envisioned of a carefree and unstructured boat-schooling environment went right out the window.  I found myself fantasizing about strict schedules and dress codes, about punishment for disrespectful treatment of teachers and classmates.  I felt like giving up.  Only a few weeks into our foray into this world of home-schooling and their bad attitudes combined with my lack of training in teaching made me want to quit. 

I was reminded once again of my deep-rooted belief that teachers are the most important, powerful, influential, undervalued and underpaid professionals in our society.  Having grown up with teachers as parents, I have spent countless hours debating this point to my peers over the years, and have seen first hand the amount of work, energy, time and dedication it takes to teach.
Bruce giving the kids their sailing/physics lesson.
Our boat-schooling started about a month ago, when Bruce and I became our children’s academic teachers in addition to being, as parents, their primary teachers in life.  The kids wanted to start school at the same time they would have started back home, so we began on a Wednesday in late August.  The first week and a half went well, as they arrived at the table fresh and eager, ready for a change from summer adventures.  They seemed thirsty for the familiar structure and knowledge they receive at school.

Working at the table that serves as our classroom, dining room and living room, the kids were enthusiastic, jumping into their math and spelling textbooks and excited about writing their thoughts down in journals.  All jazzed about the science unit Bruce taught them on the physics of sailing and on cartography of the ocean floor, we saw the sparkle in their eyes and felt proud of them (and proud of us) in achieving success in our boat-based classroom.

The kids made wooden sailboats
to learn about points of sail.
Then came week 3, the week the charm wore off, and the outburst from their teacher/mom ensued.  I now realize this was no different from the first few weeks of school on land, when the kids started to feel bored, the information was mostly review, and they missed the unstructured freedom of summer.  For some strange reason I have yet to discover, I had thought it would be different out here.  What was I thinking?!

Luckily, this negative attitude from both students and teacher came right when we had planned to take a week off from school while their grandparents rendezvoused with us in Victoria, British Columbia.  We closed our textbooks and sunk head-first into FIELD TRIPS!  Now I understand how important they are!  We attended museums, studied architecture, read about the history of the city, went to a castle, talked with artists at the market, and learned about the history of the nearly 100-year-old schooner in the slip beside us.

After this much-needed week off, the grandparents returned home, we set sail and are getting back into the routine of school.  I feel ready to make it work.  With $170 worth of books and teaching materials from Amazon, I am now armed with tools at my fingertips written by educators, and I feel confident I can become a better teacher with a better attitude.  My teaching will not come close to the skilled teaching that comes from years of experience and a proper and continuing education that our public school teachers pursue, but it will improve, I am sure of it.

We took the classroom outside this day,
and learned that it was too difficult to
concentrate on the beach....but if we
hadn't gone there, we wouldn't have found
Ernie and the boatbuilding shop
So, we march on.  As Bruce reminds me, these two children are learning every day out here.  We navigate and map our routes, we notice changes in weather, identify birds, watch animal behavior and learn about the history of the maritime world.  While ashore, we go to museums and talk to people.  Last week, we walked into a wooden boatbuilding shop and talked with Ernie, who told us to come back the next day.  We returned, and the kids stayed with him for four hours, building a boat.  Emergent curriculum is what this year will be about.  We will engage in the types of educational experiences that enrich us as human beings.  Meanwhile, the ABCs and the 123s will happen in our makeshift school, one way or another.

Richard machining wooden plugs to go in "Pocahontas"
Carmen installed the plugs in each rib.
The plugs ready to be installed.
I am confident that Richard and Carmen will learn to accept the teaching styles and limitations of their new teachers and we will respect with kindness the students we are teaching.  One day, perhaps we will find that we treat our mothers like we treat our teachers, and our children like we treat our students.  Wouldn’t THAT be lovely?


  1. Wonderful writing, teacher-mom! Also your insights along with Carmen's, Richard's and Bruce's are right-on. Thank you for the kind words about us teachers who are so often maligned.
    Even good teachers who are kind, patient, and tolerant, lose their tempers at times. After all they are human too. So don't worry if you get upset sometimes - it comes with the territory (as they say in Death of a Salesman). Keep up the valiant work onboard beautiful Northern Passage.

  2. Jen, can I share this with my daughter's teacher?

  3. My heart swells with the love I feel while reading your eloquent writing, feeling your struggles and successes. It is wonderful that your way of life naturally produces such loving growth. You must wonder sometimes who and what are the real teachers and the real students! Love you all. Kimmer

  4. Jen, you all are so open to adventure & learning. You inspire me so much! Thank you!!!