I can’t say for sure what kids have gotten out of the times I’ve spent in front of their classes or clubs with a lesson plan in hand.
I know what those situations have taught me, though: Somewhere on our country’s to-do list, we need to start recognizing that schoolteachers deserve the “Thank you for your service; look, we reserved you a special parking spot” gratitude that we give military veterans. There can’t be many jobs as important, difficult and nerve-fraying as teaching.
Making sure you have a good enough handle on the lesson to pour the right facts and analyses into their little heads is tough enough, but you can’t even get to that task until you master the elusive skill of getting kids to lock their attention on you for a good chunk of time.
I have a hard time even imagining what that kind of patience feels like.
So yeah, teaching kids is incredibly difficult.
Unless, of course, you’re not trying to teach them. In that case, they’re all ears, even when they seem to be hardly listening. And especially when you wish they weren’t.
To the occasional horror of parents everywhere, kids’ brains are evidently built to soak up every interesting thing they see and hear. This means — to the occasional horror of parents and nonparents alike — that we’re all accidentally teaching kids something every time we’re around them.
Sometimes my sons remind me of this by dropping one of the more colorful phrases that I didn’t realize I’d accidentally taught them.
My parents accidentally taught my brother and me plenty that I’m sure they wish they hadn’t. But they also had a good knack for harnessing the sponge-like qualities of our young minds.
Like the time they realized my brother needed to learn the tough lesson of responsibility more quickly than he was picking it up from them. One summer of caring for livestock and harvesting hay on a no-nonsense relative’s big out-of-state ranch took care of that nicely.
My brother was far from their only challenge. One of the many “parenting opportunities” I gave them was the puzzle of figuring out how to get a bookworm out of the house for enough exercise. But looking back, I see that the family walks they took us on were the start of my lifetime love of hiking.
All this is to say that it’s not much of a surprise anymore when I find out I’ve accidentally taught my sons something I hadn’t meant to.
But this morning, the 11-year-old surprised me with a new wrinkle.
“I finally got to lucid-dream last night,” he told me in a break in conversation on our walk to school.
“Lucid what now?”
Turns out that long ago I’d mentioned to him two bits of information that I’d completely forgotten about: Lucid dreaming is when you consciously steer your dreams while you’re in the middle of them, and some people say there’s a way to train yourself to do it.
You just need to ask yourself out loud “Am I awake right now?” often during the day. Do this enough, lucid dreamers say, and you’ll eventually ask the question while you’re asleep, at which point you’ll realize you’re in a dream and can start to nudge the scene in specific directions.
My son explained to me that the trick works, even if his first lucid dream was just him telling his big brother that they were in his dream and big brother arguing with him that they weren’t — remarkably like waking life around our house.
Now, I have no idea whether I knew the little guy was paying attention when I accidentally taught him how to steer his dreams, but I certainly wasn’t, at least not enough to remember any of it.
I can tell you, though, that realizing you’ve accidentally taught yourself something by accidentally teaching it to your kid a long time earlier is a head-spinner.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to lie down for a nap to think this whole thing over. Maybe I can nudge myself into dreaming that I know what I’m doing when I’m trying to raise these boys.