I read an interesting article recently about over-parenting, where children are made helpless because of too much support from their parents (and teachers). After I read the article, I remember this story from many years ago, shared by a colleague of mine.
"We had a kid whose mom used to dress him all the time, even though he was in sixth grade. She also used to feed him, and as a result, he didn’t know how to use a fork and spoon himself, which was a bit problematic at camp. Fortunately, he figured it out fairly quickly because there was no way we were going to literally spoon-feed him."
"One day, we were playing a relay race where one person would put on a shirt, run to the other side of the field, and pass the shirt to the next member of the team, who would put it on, and then ran back, and so on. When this kid’s turn came up, he ran to the other end of the field and raised his arms up, waiting for his teammate to put on the shirt for him."
This raises an important question for me; in what ways do we as teachers over-coach our students?
I have implemented some changes in my grade 12 math class in an effort to help build independence in my students, and the students at first feel a bit weird about these small changes, but then they adjust to them, and over time, they appear to become more independent.
- I tell my senior students that they don’t need to ask me for permission to use the bathroom, they should just wait for a sensible time, and tell me where they are going. If I still taught middle school students, I would do this with them as well, and take the rare times when they abused the responsibility as opportunities to teach self-discipline.
- I don’t assign specific problems from the textbook. I don’t even tell students where in the textbook the problems are (most of the time). If our students are unable to self-select challenging problems for themselves, and unable to find those problems in a textbook written for them in mind, then I certainly feel like we have failed them as educators.
- I stopped answering all of their questions. Most of the time, I respond with a question, and try and move them toward being able to resolve all of the simple problems they run into on a daily basis.