Christian Clifton doesn’t have kids yet, but he already knows he wants to be involved in teaching them to love learning
I am not a father yet, but I know someday that will change because I really do want kids. Obviously that is a big commitment so I have spent some considerable time thinking about what that future will look like and just what kind of parent I want to be.
This last year I began teaching math at a local charter school and so this has greatly impacted how my mind currently processes the idea of having kids. Many of my students come from single-parent homes or even homes where mom and dad are not around, which utterly breaks my heart. I grit my teeth daily trying to get the students, who have all but given up, through concepts and lessons and it has given me an appreciation for the parents who really get involved in their children’s education.
We all know how important proper schooling is for children of all ages; it is something that, if done correctly, can bring about countless opportunities and brighten futures in many ways. However, I think there needs to be something more than just a focus on sending my kids to a building eight hours a day for fifteen years, because chances are high that my kids will be the stereotype that will dislike school at some point. I have made a plan with my wife to focus on more than just this type of learning with our children.
We have agreed that when we have children, and they are old enough to understand, we want to have a tradition of talking with our kids at the end of the day about their learning. Many parents do this in the form of “What did you do at school today?”, but I don’t think this is enough. I don’t want to train my children into thinking that learning is only found within a school or book.
Instead I plan on asking my children a broader question—“What did you learn today?”—and emphasize that this does not have to be something from a classroom. It could be something they learned from television, play time, about themselves, or anything in this great big world we live in. I want to hear from my kids that they can appreciate learning in any form, something I am so thankful that was instilled in me and still serves me to this day.
I will not settle for one or two word answers in these discussions. I want to unpack and discuss their lessons, giving depth and an open ear to their ideas and questions. I know teachers aren’t always able to give every student an open ear about different ideas and that is going to be one of my jobs. I know firsthand that the feeling of not being heard is one of the most toxic things to a desire to expand knowledge, and I desperately want to be an antidote if that ever happens to my kids.
As I said, I am a teacher and what I see all too often is that students view school as a waste of time, and usually this stems from a general lack of desire for learning. To them, they know everything they need to know and so there seems to be no point in continuing an education. I find myself lost for words and feel helpless at times when met with this mentality. I don’t want my kids to ever reach that point; I want them to embody a lifetime of learning.
There have been countless studies that show parental involvement is a key to success for student success. Parents that are more involved give their kids a leg up, and it is greatly appreciated by teachers and administrators alike. My time in education has taught me that parental involvement can be more important than the school your kid goes to, the money you have to invest in them, and even their own abilities at different subjects. I teach math, everyone’s favorite class, and even the students who struggle with it do much better when they get some kind of involvement outside the doors of the school.
I know I am not the best teacher in the world. I try my best but I will still fail. After all, I have over 150 students to contend with in a day, it would be foolish of me to think I could give each one of them the same one-on-one attention that a parent could. My plea is to all parents to be involved in their children’s education—Be willing to help out and lend a hand to their teachers who only want their students to succeed. New standards and greater funding can do wonders but pale in comparison to the benefits parents can bring to the table.
Albert Einstein believed “Once you stop learning you start dying”; a quote that perfectly embodies the importance of lifelong learning. He was a man of great intelligence but even he knew the real importance was in continuing to ask questions and then figure out the answer. It was this mindset that firmly planted him in all of our minds as one of the smartest men ever. If he had stopped seeking new things after school, he would have remained a patent clerk with crazy hair.
As a human, I am inquisitive, I ask questions all the time, and I truly believe that to cease seeking answers to those would be a sign that something is seriously wrong. I make it a point to learn something new every day; it may not always be something useful but that doesn’t stop me. My wife is the same way. Sure, her learning is usually more useful—she reads a lot of psychology and self-help books whereas my stuff is usually random articles from the internet—but we spur each other with new knowledge on a regular basis. It’s one of the reasons we fit together so well, and this love of learning is something we both desperately want to share with our future children.
I truly think the world would be a better place if everyone was more excited to learn, especially if we were more open to learning about things we disagree with or are uninterested in. I do my best to spark it in my students, even if they hate my class (math), I want to challenge them at their preconceived notions and I will do the same for my kids one day. I may not be able to change the world but, if I my love of learning can rub off and change just one life, I’ll count myself accomplished.
While it may be years until they are born, I am already planning on being fully involved in my kids education. Parental involvement is the only surefire way to fix our struggling educational system. It is good to ensure our children go to school and get good grades, but I don’t want to stop there. I want to extend my involvement in stimulating my kids intellectually beyond textbooks and standardized test. My wife and I may not always have the financial means to do this, but we will always have our own minds and a love for our children, which, if applied correctly, can more than make up for a lack of money.
I have plenty of reservations about being a dad one day; in fact, I am terrified at the notion. However, when I focus on all the wonderful things that kids can be and do, my confidence is bolstered. There is something indescribable about watching a kid’s face light up with wonder about the world and I get giddy thinking about the day I will see it in my own child’s eyes. Look out, future children, because it’s a big world, but our family is going to dive headfirst into it together and figure it out.
Photo credit: Geoff Mock/Flickr