Breaking the First Law of Teaching

I regularly break the first law of teaching. More than a decade ago in Principles of Teaching class at Faith Builders, I memorized the seven laws of teaching. Though I can’t quote them all offhand, I do remember the first one: “The teacher must know that which he would teach.”

Well, I break that rule. One of the favorite activities among the lower grades during any free playtime at school is jumping rope. Many of my students have become quite skilled at Double Dutch jumping, which involves two ropes spun simultaneously in opposite directions. We tie one end of each rope to the porch railing so that only one person needs to turn the ropes. That person is usually me because, frankly, I am the only person at school who is practiced in the art of turning the ropes in a consistent rhythm that makes for easy jumping.

IMG_1774(Here the children were jumping with only one rope because I can’t take pictures and spin ropes at the same time.)

One day recently, one of my girls asked, “Miss Beiler, can you jump Double Dutch?”

“No,” I replied. “I never did.”

Yet I have successfully taught dozens of children to do it, even many who were reluctant to try it at first. I have enabled them to do what I have never been able to do myself.

My girls are so eager to jump Double Dutch that it’s not unusual if I hear something like this at lunch time: “Miss Beiler, hurry up and finish your lunch so that you can come spin!” To which I usually reply, “I’ll come after a while.” They have already finished eating, while sometimes I have barely sat down. I mean, I’m the teacher. Lunchtime for me may involve unscrewing tight lids, opening stubborn packages, cleaning up spills, supervising the microwave line, and “starting the peeling” one someone’s clementine.

In other news—this school year is moving along at a rapid pace. We’ve already finished the first quarter and parent/teacher conferences, and now we’re heading right for Thanksgiving break. How does time always get away from me like this?

This classroom has been busy, as always.


Several weeks into school, we got new desks. They were supposed to come before school ever started, but we all know how these things go sometimes. So when the new desks came we had a grand transfer party. The eighth grade boys carried in the new desks for us and took out the old ones as we emptied them.


I doubt that you can even imagine how much easier my job is with these new desks. Goodbye to those dreadful old lids that crashed shut and sometimes wouldn’t open and sometimes wouldn’t close. All the time and energy I used to spend trying to get my students to open and close those things properly can now be spent in more worthwhile endeavors.

Oh, by the way, if you need a new iphone or ipad, I have several boys who will be happy to manufacture one for you. They’ve gone into business producing these things from cardboard and construction paper. One girl was holding her “phone” while waiting in line to jump rope. When her turn came, she handed the phone to her friend behind her and said, “Here, hold my phone while I jump. But don’t look at my texts!”

That reminds me—our spelling books are a new edition this year, and I had to laugh when I saw that one of the words in the first spelling list was texting. That wasn’t even a word when I was in third grade. Sometimes it is overwhelming to think of how much the world has changed in my short lifetime.

Sometimes, too, it can be overwhelming and terrifying to look at those eighteen little faces in my classroom every day and see eternity written there. My children will go places and do things that I will never do. They will be successful at things that I wouldn’t even attempt and possibly things that I have never even heard of.

Yet here I am, giving them one small steppingstone in a lifetime of learning.

Maybe I’m not breaking the first law of teaching after all. I may not actually be able to do all the things I teach about, but I know how to enable others to do them. And maybe, just maybe, that is what teaching is all about.