Local voices: The teachers will appear


Amelia Plair

Amelia Plair



Amelia Plair



"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." That's a Buddhist proverb I've heard before and like. It's been true many times for me: when I am ready to understand something, a loved one or stranger will know just the right thing to say or do.


But it seems that we suddenly have millions of schoolchildren in the United States who may or may not be ready, and millions of parents who are definitely not-quite-ready to be teachers.


Unfortunately, we cannot wait for the students to be ready to learn in the traditional ways at home. And we cannot wait for parents - many of whom are also juggling full-time jobs from home - to teach in traditional ways at their kitchen tables.



The good news is that we don't really need to wait for the perfect program or workbook or interactive doohickey to fix this. There is no magic bullet for education anyway. There never has been, despite the fact we've spent years and millions trying to find or build one.


The key to teaching a child is simply this: capitalize on the teachable moments. Those are when the student is ready.


I cannot tell you how many years I've spent developing PowerPoints and handouts to teach, say, how to write a thesis statement or how to cite a source, only to set my students free to do those things and discover they actually have no idea what to do.


It's not until they are faced with the blank sheet of paper that they realize that all the fancy handouts in the world didn't prepare them for this.


You know what fixes this problem? A conversation. A conversation where I guide the student through the process. A conversation where I spell out how to make the process work for this specific student in this specific situation. Then I listen as they make suggestions and watch as they write their own statements.


See, the student doesn't care how to write something until he or she is faced with the task of doing it. The teachable moment comes only when they realize they need to do something or need to know something and don't know what they are doing.


The nice thing about teaching at home is that you don't have to design a big project or paper to force these moments. They happen naturally. Some of them will drive you crazy, like the four-year-old who keeps asking "Why?" until you finally snap, "because God made it that way, okaaaay?"


But honestly, those "why" questions, those are the ones to look for. In my house, I have two rules for this quarantine: one is to minimize screen time as much as possible. The other is to look for and take advantage of the teachable moments. The lack of screen time means that we actually have quite a lot of teachable moments.


And truly, that's it. At this point, we are not gathering around the kitchen table to do schoolwork. We are reading every day. We will need to add in more math at some point, but for now, I am trying to provide real-life, hands-on activities and answer the questions that naturally result.


To that end, we have made playdough and slime in the past couple weeks. Yes, it messed up my kitchen a bit. But it also gave my kids a chance to talk about what colors would result if they mixed blue and red. We talked about why salt is a prominent ingredient in playdough but not regular dough. We even briefly discussed polymers and why slime comes together the way it does.


The playdough recipe comes from an old church cookbook my Aunt Diane gave me years ago. It does call for cream of tartar, which is a white powder sold with the spices. I keep it on hand for this playdough recipe and for sugar cookies. If you don't have any, just leave it out or look for a recipe that doesn't call for it.


The slime recipe came from the internet, but I had to surf around and try a few before we discovered one that actually worked. Unfortunately, I didn't record the place I found these ingredients.


Amelia Plair is a mom and high school teacher in Starkville. Email reaches her at [email protected]





1 cup flour


1/2 cup salt


2 teaspoon cream of tartar (find it with the spices)


1 cup water


1 tablespoon cooking oil


Food coloring



■ Mix flour, salt, and cream of tartar in saucepan. Add water and oil slowly, while stirring. Cook on low heat about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture pulls away from the pan.


■ Place cooked dough onto waxed paper. When cool enough to handle, knead for a minute or two. Then separate into the number of different colors you want to make.


■ Roll each lump into a ball and press a finger into it. Drop food coloring into the ball and pinch the top closed. Hand the ball to a child and tell him or her to knead it until the color is uniform.


■ Store dough in jars, ziptop bags, or other airtight containers. Makes about the same amount as 6 cans of the storebought stuff.





Mixture 1:


1/4 teaspoon Borax


1/2 cup warm water


Mixture 2:


1/2 cup glue


1/2 cup warm water


mix-ins as desired (food coloring, glitter, etc.)



■ Mix the Borax and 1/2 cup water into one mixing bowl. Set aside.


■ Into a second clean bowl (and using a clean spoon or stick), mix the glue, 1/2 cup warm water, and any mix-ins such as coloring or glitter. ■ Pour the Borax solution into the glue solution and mix well. The glue should immediately become lumpy and stringy. This is normal. When the mixture is too difficult to mix, pull the lump from the bowl and knead it with hands to encourage the polymer to form. (You may have a bit of water or glue left in the bowl; this is normal.) ■ Store the slime in a bag in the refrigerator to prevent mold.




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