Teaching is Habit Forming

I have written about permanence in education before.  All teachers want to know that much of what they teach a student will “stay with them.”  Charlotte Mason emphasized the role of “habits” in this regard.  The actions developed by our teaching, which in her scheme included “intellectual, moral, physical, and religious” habits, are those most likely to persist with our student, long after the “information” has been forgotten or at least filed in long term memory with nary a recall for years to come.

Thus the formation of a habit in a student is of singular and paramount importance.  The intellectual habit, for instance, of knowing how to read well is a gift for a lifetime, if the student will continue to use it.  Or the moral habit of “yes, sir” or “no, maam” will follow the student for the rest of his life if developed early.  This leads to several random observations about such pedagogy, the pedagogy of habit…

  1. I have noted that the closer I am to the student (especially if they are one of my own children) the more passionate and fearful I become about their habits.  I want them to get it.  But the fear that they will not get it often gets in the way of my teaching.  I see the lack, my voice is raised (out of my fear for them) and their reception of my guidance is negatively affected.  One writer in discussing this issue narrows it to two admonitions for her teachers:  1) be consistent, one slip with the habit sets you back several steps and 2) never let the matter be a cause of friction between you and the child (let them suffer the natural consequences). {Maryellen St. Cyr, in When Children Love to Learn, in the chapter on the Four Pillars of Education, p. 94}. We often don’t believe God’s world “works” in that we fear that if the habit is not right at this moment, it will be forever lost.  Slow and steady wins the race.
  2. Most teachers seem to default to information and “content” over the much more significant issue of habit formation.  When we start talking about their class and how its going, we head right to “what they are studying.”  Now I am clear elsewhere on how “ideas” are the center of a good education, but the ideas are already there.  The habits of seeking, understanding, contemplating, handling (as it were) an idea are key to the proper “use” of those ideas.
  3. St. Cyr’s call for consistency is tantamount to begging a teacher to have time for contemplation.  A good teacher must regularly (at least weekly, if not daily) spend time in thought, considering the habits she is intent on building, thinking about what habits are being built “accidently” in the classroom (that is, those she is not intentional about but are still showing up), and thinking in specifics concerning each student, not just in general class characteristics.
  4. Yes, yes, I know.  Education and time, contemplation, leisure are not good partners these days.  But it comes back to such.  I guarantee that the teacher who chooses to focus on this type of teaching is “fall behind” in content AT THE FRONT END.  But over time, the thirteen years most schools have a student, the well formed habits will out pace poorly habituated students any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Lots more to consider, but time draws me to a close…



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