Seven Laws of Teaching Your Own: The Law of the Teacher

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I wrote this series in 2011, when my oldest was 8. How we teach our children is part of how we interact with and love our children, and make this life together work, so learning how to teach is worth our time as homeschool moms, even though our situations are different.

Begin with the introduction, summary, and table of contents for The Seven Laws of Teaching Your Own series.

The Seven Laws of Teaching Your Own

The book is available for free online.

Summary of the Seven Laws of Teaching

Seven Laws of Teaching Your Own- Law 1: The Law of the Teacher.

Summary of Law 1: The teacher must know that which he would teach.

Gregory begins with this admonition:
That we cannot teach without knowledge seems too simple for proof. How can something come of nothing, or how can darkness give light? [...] No other qualification is so fundamental and essential.
According to Gregory, knowledge has four levels:
  1. Faint recognition
  2. Ability to describe in a general way
  3. Power to readily explain, prove, and illustrate
  4. Feeling such deep appreciation of truth’s deep significant and wide relations, that we are compelled to act differently.
It is this fourth that teachers should possess in order to communicate clearly and passionately. Of course, Gregory admits, this is an ideal which we may only strive to approach, yet knowing that a deep love and awareness of the connections of our subjects is the goal helps us to not be satisfied with shallow thinking and cursory instruction. He writes:
Truth must be clearly understood before it can be vividly felt.
A teacher who knows what he is talking about, who has internalized that which he would communicate, is free; he is not slave to a textbook or curriculum. It is from feeling and living the truth that he knows that enthusiasm spills over to his students. It is the excitement of felt interest that sparks all his powers of communication. He also gives what should be a startling warning to mothers:
Children object to being taught by those in whom they have no confidence.
Do our children have confidence in us? In our ability to teach? In our ability to keep our word and follow through with our assignments and our consequences and their work? If we lose their confidence, we lose the ability to teach. That must spur us on to integrity and right priorities if we want to be in this for the long haul.

Applications to the Homeschool

This law, stating that teachers must know - really know - what they are teaching, might discourage us and make homeschooling seem foolish and futile. However, it doesn’t have to. You delegate when homeschooling as you would if you sent your child to school. If your child went to school, you would still hold him accountable to completing his work well, right? That is your primary job in homeschooling, as well, not standing in front of the whiteboard as the fount of all knowledge. Indeed, the best application of this law for us is in our choice of books and materials. This law is the reason living books are essential. The authors your child reads are his teachers, so ensuring they are clear, passionate, knowledgable teachers is vital.

Implications of the Law of the Teacher

Gregory sets forth the following “rules” for the teacher as applications of this first law. After each rule (and these are only selections from his complete list), I have added a possible specific application or implication for our situations as homeschoolers:
  1. Prepare for each lesson with fresh study. Put on a game face for the day: review the flow and the content before beginning the day.
  2. Find out and teach with analogies, relations, and illustrations. Think through the material for yourself so you aren’t caught off guard in a script.
  3. The product of clear thought is clear speech. In other words, you have to have thought through what you’re going to say for it to be coherent. Don’t try to wing it, bluffing your children. They won’t be fooled.
  4. Never rest until real understanding is reached. Why bother making any effort at all if you won’t go to the effort of seeing it through.
  5. Complete mastery of a few things is better than an ineffective smattering of many. It is better to reach and experience that fourth level of knowledge than to believe that level 2 or 3 is complete knowledge. That’s when you produce know-it-alls. Someone who experiences level 4 even one or two times, then knows that he does not know much well.
  6. Have a plan, a timetable, for where you are going. You are steering a ship; where are you driving it?
  7. Ask and answer these questions in every lesson: What? How? Why? You need to know and your student needs to know. These make excellent narration prompts.
  8. Read, think, talk, and write. These are the ways we come to know. They are each tools to use.

Violations of the Law of the Teacher

Gregory helpfully includes not only positive statements about this law, but also enumerates several common violations of this law. He states, “The true teacher will make as few errors as possible, and will profit by those that he makes.” Let us look at these for our profit, then, willing to :
  1. Assume that your own ignorance will not be detected because of the students’ ignorance. So doing will lose you your students’ trust and respect. Children can sniff fakery and hypocrisy a mile away. If you don’t have their trust and respect, you will not be able to teach them, and rightfully so.
  2. Hear lessons without knowing the lesson yourself. Your own indifference, lack of preparedness, or laziness will be caught even if your cheating is not found out. This would correspond to hearing a narration of an independent reader, of a book you haven’t read. Ouch, he hit me dead-center! I have been trying this for half a year now, and I can testify that it doesn’t work. How am I to know if the narration is complete or accurate?
  3. Fill time with filler talk or with exercises because nothing definite is expected, planned, or known. Such laziness is a waste of everyone’s time. Better to send the children outside to play or to the couch to read than assign busy work simply to fill time and feel “productive.”
  4. Talk above the students’ comprehension and talk about understanding. This is the practice of a sham who conceals his own lazy ignorance with pompous pretense. Our goal is for our students to understand, not be overawed by us (which they wouldn’t be, anyway; they would just learn to tune us out).
  5. “A more serious fault is that of those who, failing to find stimulation in the lesson, make it a mere framework upon which to hang some fancies of their own.” This is an easy trap for mothers, especially, I think. We can always turn a situation to become an illustration in a lecture on a pet peeve. Gregory tells us to knock it off.
Thus many teachers go to their work either partly prepared or wholly unprepared. They are like messengers without a message. They lack entirely the power and enthusiasm necessary to produce the fruits which we have a right to look for from their efforts.
Let us have a message and communicate it with power and enthusiasm.
Seven Laws of Teaching your Own Series: The Law of the Teacher

  1. Pilgrim

    This is a great overview. I have wondered how to be the “master” of subjects I know little about and your explanation is very freeing. We have so many resources available so why not use them! It is best to expose the child to the living works in a field instead of my mediocre attempts to interpret something I know little about. I also like the admonition to finish what you start – or why did you start it in the first place. I have a tendency to have lots of good intentions but lack follow through. I don’t want to pass that habit on to my children. I would love to hear more about how you help kids get to the fourth level of understanding. I agree that shallow understanding creates know it all’s – in part because I have been like that.