The Law of the Teacher

Welcome back to my blog-through of John Milton Gregory’s The Seven Laws of Teaching.

The teacher must know that which he would teach.

John Milton Gregory

Gregory’s first law emphasizes the importance of the teacher not only mastering the knowledge of the material, but also his diligence in preparing the lesson and preparing with his particular students in mind. Too often I have fallen into the error of thinking that because I understand a fact or concept well, I will be able to teach it just fine. Ha! No. You are probably very familiar with the speed at which knowledge and eloquence can quickly abandon you in front of any audience.

Public speaking takes practice. Teaching takes similar practice, as an exercise not only in public speaking, but in a personal relationship with the audience. Every teacher, whether in a school, home, or online, needs to prepare well, practice, and leave time for refining of the lesson. Mid-year and mid-week lessons can get sloppy because we run out of ideas and energy. Ditch the expectation that every lesson needs to be fun and flashy. Prepare a simple lesson well as an act of love for your students and your God. It will be a simple meal, but it will be well-prepared and a source of peace.

If you are homeschooling, clarity of terms may help immensely here in relieving some pressure. You are not expected to be your child’s teacher in every subject. But you are their first and most important teacher. I love Brandy Vencel’s helpful distinction between being a teacher and being a facilitator in her post on “How I Teach Latin.” Once you understand this distinction, I think the quality of education you can give your child will vastly improve. 

First, identify in which things you are going to be the teacher. Master that sphere of knowledge and prepare lessons well as Gregory encourages us. This is my slight beef with so many homeschool curriculums that describe themselves as “open-and-go.” The implication is that you can teach your child with little effort. That is not true. The only things you will teach your children with little effort are your own bad habits. Your own good habits were not borne without effort – the effort of the Holy Spirit, the effort of your parents or mentors, the effort of yourself. Thought and effort are put into every good thing you will teach your children. Now, of course, your child can probably still learn many wonderful things with an “open-and-go” curriculum, especially because you will be pulling on knowledge and experience you already have. But to provide your child with an excellent, virtuous education, you will have to put in preparation time.

In the early years, preparation time may not take much time because lessons will be short and the content will be simple (from your adult perspective). Later, though, you may need to identify those things in which you are going to be the facilitator. This could be accomplished either by utilizing another teacher or by guiding your child’s independent studies.

One final thought: Is a video of a teacher, a “teacher”? I think, at least in Gregory’s definitions and framework, we could not say this is your child’s “teacher.” That will become even more clear when we get to the later laws. Recorded lessons can have a place in your child’s education, but consider carefully when choosing that route.