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The Making of a Master Teacher

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #59, 2004.

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Jessica Hulcy


From the age of eight, my second son Jordan drew football and basketball plays on everything from math pages to paper napkins. He used to show me these confluences of circles, x's, and arrows, while I was fixing dinner, wanting my input. My standard comment was, "Looks like a pretty slow developing play. Are you sure your line can hold while you do your triple reverse?"

Years later, it was no wonder Jordan chose a career in coaching and teaching. He was doing that very successfully in a private school for several years... that is until last year. Much changes when the headmaster of a private school is replaced, and such was the case in Jordan's school. After years of working to build a fledgling football program, the school, under new leadership, decided to toss the football program out in favor of a golf team!

Jordan's football days
Jordan quickly found another coaching job nearby, but they did not need any teachers. Could he just coach in the afternoons like many of their other coaches did? He agreed and filled his mornings helping his dad at KONOS and starting his own KONOS co-op class one day a week. And so began the Saga of the Second Generation KONOS Co-op Teacher: Jordan Becker Hulcy.

Like Mother Like Son... Or Not

To begin with, there are a number of differences between Jordan and myself. Naturally, we have a generation difference, but there is a gender difference as well. No doubt about it, God made men and women different, each with their own strengths. You already know this. With rare exceptions [such as the editor of this magazine and several of her kids, so maybe the exceptions aren't that rare - Ed] don't send a male to find something or ask a female to fix a mechanical device. The male will never come back, and the female will end up in tears. Likewise, Jordan and I have very distinct personality differences. On the personality test, I am 100 percent Lion and 100 percent Beaver. I am fully capable of commanding or projecting you to death or organizing you to death. Jordan, on the other hand, is a mix between Golden Retriever, who is highly relationship oriented, and Otter, who is interested in having fun, with a wide streak of Lion competitiveness. Could he survive using our schoolroom as his classroom under my tutelage?

Jordan began the fall semester teaching his co-op class from the KONOS Culture Series, Russia: The Land of Endurance. He had plenty of background on this unit as Jordan had been in the group that originally tested the Russia unit.

He knew about Genghis Khan, the czars, Stalin, the Cold War, the Space Race, and he had the advantage of knowing where he was going with the group and what they were going to cover. The trick, though, comes when you are IN CHARGE of making the unit happen smoothly and orderly for a group of 17 students.

When you have more than 12 students, the setting changes from "tutorial" to "classroom." Jordan's private school classroom teaching experience had prepared him for his large, multi-aged coop class. However, even though he had worked diligently to make his private school classes hands-on, he had not come close to the "doing style" of Russia: The Land of Endurance. He would have to make adjustments.

Viking shield
Inheriting Mom And Dad's Reputation and Standards

My husband Wade started a weekly physical education class 19 years ago, teaching 150 students one day a week. Four years ago, Wade handed his PE classes over to Jordan and his brother Rhett with severe admonitions to maintain the standards and quality he had established through the years. Both boys had done an excellent job at maintaining the standard in PE class. Now Jordan was about to tap into many of the families who had been sending their older students to my high school co-op classes. Like Wade, I was looking for standards and quality to be maintained. But on the other hand, though I would certainly help in a pinch, I did not want to teach the class. I just wanted Jordan to teach it PERFECTLY... like I would... and to leave the house cleaner than he found it! Not much to ask. Right?

I had no doubt Jordan would be an excellent teacher from the knowledge standpoint or the hands-on standpoint. But his gender and laid-back approach made me shudder at his planning and organizational skills. After all, you cannot construct a model of St. Basil's Cathedral from two aspirin boxes. You need to collect many boxes of varied sizes over a long period of time. Seventeen Viking shields cannot pop out of one cardboard box. Again you need to collect several boxes as well as purchase spray paint. Pysanky eggs, the multi-colored eggs made by Russian women of the Greek Orthodox Church at Easter, require kitskas, wax, eggs, three colors of dye, and candles to burn the wax off the eggs. Planning and thought would have to go into the preparation of the crafts.

Rhett working on a pysanky egg
Finding Your Teaching Style

In the beginning, planning and organization were the areas where Jordan needed help. I shared with him my form I use to plan my weekly co-ops, and insisted he go against his nature and get an overall yearly plan as well as have three weeks planned out to the detail before class even started. I also worked with Jordan on communication with his parents, explaining how homeschool moms wanted to know as much information in black and white (not by word of mouth) as possible and have as much lead time as possible where their responsibilities were concerned. Homeschooling moms have a million other responsibilities and they do not appreciate surprise responsibilities. "To keep your mothers happy and avoid misunderstandings... communicate clearly and often," I warned!

With those mine fields out of the way, Jordan soared. His love of the Scriptures was very evident as he taught the Bible lessons on endurance with incredible insight. Being a true KONOS kid, he loved letting the children immerse themselves in activities from building rockets for the space race between Russian and the US, to making mosaics out of painted eggshells, to crafting Faberge eggs from decorated Easter eggs and fabric scraps. There were huge messes born of creativity and immense fun and learning. Jordan had his students dress in every imaginable kid-made costume from polar bears of the tundra to walrus on the ice floe. Who could forget what walrus life was like after wearing three-foot cardboard tusks and having your legs and hands taped together? Only once did Jordan call on me for extra hands in helping the children paint their Russian nesting dolls. Finally the grand finale was upon us, and Jordan's kid's Nutcracker performance was superb! Jordan's own personal ballet experience allowed him to choreograph parts just perfect for each student's level and capability. The performance was absolutely enjoyable to watch and very fun and rewarding for the children!

Mouse king and the nutcracker
Doubts Destroyed

I should not have been surprised. I have been preaching process not product, since I began speaking to homeschoolers. In elementary years, just the process of moving through an activity is more important than the perfect outcome or product of the activity. I had acted my credo out on Jordan, and he had absorbed it. He had definitely engaged his students in the process. Thinking back on the grand finale of the Nutcracker performance, I realized Jordan had gone beyond the process of activities and enabled the students to deliver an excellent product as well. Helping students to achieve excellence and enjoy learning really constitutes a master teacher.

Master teachers are not born... they are shaped. To be sure, some people have a head start as they are born with the gift of teaching, but anyone willing can be shaped into an excellent teacher. Jordan had brought his desire to teach, his past experiences, along with all his strengths and weaknesses to the co-op class. This is exactly what homeschooling moms bring when they begin teaching their children and co-ops. The key to becoming a master teacher is capitalizing on those strengths, while you identify and improve on the weaknesses. Jordan was well on his way to being a master teacher, just as all willing moms can be. Truth be known... I am not really surprised.

Jessica's Gems

Jordan Hulcy and Betsy Quine
What? Ballet for Boys?

All of our boys have taken ballet for a number of years at some time in their life. It all started when Jason our oldest son was in junior high school playing basketball. Jason was so aggressive that he would drive through everyone on the court collecting fouls on his way to the basket. Our friends, the Quines of Cornerstone Curriculum, told us they were enrolling their sons in ballet and wondered if we were interested, since boys could take classes for free! Wade thought it might help Jason’s body control, so we were in. It did help Jason cut back on fouling, and over the years our boys danced in several Nutcracker performances as well as other ballets. They have all enjoyed it, but Jordan was more of a natural than the others, making The Company at Dallas Ballet. College cut his career short, but later in life, he was able to apply his knowledge and talents teaching coop kids in preparation for the Russia units Nutcracker performance. You never know when and how you will use that vast repertoire you build up when homeschooling.


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