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Setting an Example, One Word at a Time

Mother and daughter studyingRecently, my stepkids, who live with their mother, came for the weekend. We are lucky enough to live fairly close to them, and as such, they occasionally bring school work with them. On this particular weekend, my stepdaughter brought two things to accomplish:  a list of twenty spelling words (on which, when originally quizzed at school, she received a D) and an ongoing board game project. 

I only knew about these projects because her mother had briefed me. When I asked my stepdaughter about them, she sighed heavily and yanked them out of her bag. It was a heavy sigh. The kind of sigh that lets you know you’ve become the center of an 11-year-olds utter disdain. 

Challenge accepted, missy.

I took her upstairs to my room, where we could have some quiet, and I gave her one of my school notebooks. It was one of the prettiest notebooks I’d bought in a long time, and had been hoarding for a math class I wasn’t looking forward to. But right then she looked like she’d rather chew her own arm off than pick up a pencil to work on those spelling words and needed a little something to give her a push. 

And I’ve been there, man. I’ve been there. 

So I shut the door, turned on some music, handed her a pen and we went over her spelling words. Then, we went over them again. I worked on a philosophy paper, pausing to read her the words. We took a break and started the process over. Each time, she improved. Soon, she’d filled up 20 pages with spelling words. All 20 words, 20 times each. By the time she’d filled the last page, there wasn’t a single error. Not one. 

When I looked at the clock, I realized we’d been studying for a few hours. I felt a little bad and I asked her if she wanted to stop working for the day and go watch a movie. She smiled a bit and said, “What if we worked on my board game project now? I like the way we’re working. You’re good at this.”

My heart swelled. 

There are times that studying doesn’t feeling rewarding - times when multi-tasking becomes synonymous with exhaustion and we’re ready to just toss our books out the window. At least metaphorically, anyway because, let’s be real, most of them are rented. 

But without realizing it, by simply balancing the best way I knew how, I’d set an example. Her need for spelling improvement and my philosophy requirements seemed like routine doldrums to me - just another thing to check the box on. But to my stepdaughter, it was an opportunity to spend time together and learn the pride and profit of dedication. 

And, in the end, isn’t that what education is really about?  

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