A recent post by a friend who’s a former classroom teacher and now hand-sells books at a fine independent book store recalled a memory and started me thinking about what constitutes help.
Because of his teaching expertise, he frequently gets questions and complaints about teachers and education. On this occasion, it was from a parent who didn’t understand why her student got 100% on all her homework and failed her tests. A little digging revealed that the parents were doing the homework each night to ensure a good grade. My wise friend tactfully pointed out that they were sabotaging the purpose for the student to practice and for the teacher to know where she was struggling in order to give further instruction in problem areas.
His story returned me to a memory from the days when I figuratively endorsed my paycheck to Baylor University for my youngest son to pursue a major in information systems. Thinking he would be appreciative of this support, I asked for his help with my computer when he was home for a holiday. He stood behind me facing the computer and said, “Now, Mom, what do you think you would do next?”
“I don’t know,” was my slightly testy answer. “That’s why I called you. Just tell me what to do, and we can be finished.”
He countered with a question in a tone that was vaguely familiar. “Do you remember how you used to ‘help’ with my homework? You kept asking me this same kind of question until I had solved the problem. You said if I figured it out, the next time I would be able to figure it out again. If you figure out this computer problem, you will be able to figure it out when I’m not here.”
My first thought was, “What goes around, comes around.” I wasn’t particularly happy with his method of helping at the moment and knew he had not always been happy with mine. I also knew I had been right, and he was right. The best help comes, whether its homework or something entirely different, not when we remove obstacles but when we coach the struggler to surmount the problem. Success for the coach (teacher, parent, etc.) is in becoming unnecessary – but, hopefully, still loved and appreciated.