What’s Your Choice?

During the daytime I taught high school English and History.

At night, especially on the weekends, I was care-giver to a male quadriplegic. He had fallen backward off an oil platform and broke his neck. There was very little he could do for himself except tell his attendants what to do and how to accomplish each detail.

My patient did not allow me to choose what channel to watch. I watched what he watched – mostly PBS. He introduced me to Masterpiece Mysteries.

Every detail of his care had micro-details attached to them. What, when, how, for how long, to what end. To be sure you understand, he instructed me how to brush his teeth, the direction the brush should move, and for how long, on each tooth. All bodily functions except digestion must be performed for him to his standards.

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I chose to do this work. It was not forced on me. It was my choice. Because it was my choice it was very important to me that I perform at the optimum level; excellence was the only option. This was my choice before discovering that it was expected of me, if I were to continue working for the family.

Fortunately, I had previously worked for my father in the hospital as a Physical Therapy aide. My father was very demanding in regards to the way work was performed in his department. There was only one acceptable level: excellence. He would show me how a task was to be performed one time, and I was to execute the maneuver that way ever after. I could take longer to do the work than he did – for a while – then I was to be up to speed.

I was physically adept and at least moderately intelligent, and I, too, believed in the goal of excellence, so I chose to work with him, helping the patients as he directed. I saw other workers who complained about the working conditions and demands placed on them. They didn’t last long in the department.

It occurred to me that I was different from them in that I had made a choice: my father was the expert, I was to learn and follow directions. It seemed only reasonable that I should strive to meet his expectations for quality. I valued his approval.

Looking back on this experience with my father, I understand what he accomplished in me. I learned to expect high quality performance from myself. Even when there were no external expectations for that level of work. This actually started in my elementary years of schooling.

My father would talk with me as if I understood words and ideas from the adult world: news, medicine, literature, world events. And I gained from that interchange with him. He also gained, because he had few friends with whom to discuss his ideas.

Influence of Choice

During 40 plus years of teaching I have observed the influence of choice on my students. I have also observed the influence of parents’ choices affecting their children.

I was blessed with insight into the process of learning that made a significant difference in my students. Those students who accepted the role of following my instruction and processes made significant advances in their academic careers. Students who were grade levels behind, according to the tests, would surge forward to catch up and surpass the requirements for their ages and grades.

For this to happen once could be called a fluke. But this happened over and over again, in multiple school locations across the USA.

The one commonality in each case was choice. Parents and students who chose to learn, did so, and excelled. Link to article on choice to learn

Of course, not every student responded with the choice to learn. Some chose to believe that he or she was not to be subjected to the expectations explained for them. When the parents agreed with the students, advancement stagnated and the students became unhappy, disrespectful, flagrantly refusing to comply with the classroom expectations.

From the vantage point of 40 years’ of experiences, the common thread can be distilled into one idea: choice makes a world of difference in the learning process. A student who chooses to learn, will learn, and often at an accelerated pace.

Learning is a choice.

Link to article on Learning is a choice

A decision or choice not to learn, or just the absence of the choice to learn, is an obstacle impervious to the skills of the teacher.

So where and when does a child make the choice – to learn or to resist?

Science and research indicates that a child will have had experiences by the age of 4 that will greatly influence – or determine – their future academic successes. Family encounters and events set the stage for learning.

Early-Life Choices

Parent and grandparent choices are of paramount importance during the first years of the child’s life.

What should these important people be doing during the infancy and toddler years of their children’s lives?

  1. Read aloud, with the child in your lap. Read at bedtime every night. Read the same books over and over until the child can recite it from memory.
  2. Talk with the child in a normal voice about all of the things going on around him or her. Talk about what the child is seeing and experiencing in the stores, in the car, in the home, in church.
  3. Work through decisions that you are making – outloud for the child to hear.
  4. Answer all their questions. If you don’t know the answer, say so, and add “but I know where we can find out.” and then find out.
  5. Play, explore, get on the floor, in the grass. Make tents and forts. Inspire and extend their natural curiosity.
  6. Listen to music together.

Do these things and prepare to be amazed by what your child or grandchild is able to accomplish.

Later-Life Choices

The photo of the rose at the top of this post is a great example of later-life opportunities available through our choices. This particular plant was scheduled for the dumpster of a Garden Center near our home. We happened by and my wife took pity on the sorry-looking thing. The sales person said we could have it.

It came home with us and we planted, watered, fertilized, pruned and otherwise pampered the thing. We even talked to it, encouraging it to grow.

It grew. Flourished would not be an exaggeration. It has bloomed over and over again. Each time we marvel at the beauty and perfection of the blooms at every stage of development.

If you have an older child still living at home, and you didn’t do these things, start now. Turn off the TV and introduce your child to the characters and events found in books. Read out loud for bedtime.

Talk with your child about the power of choice. No matter what was lacking in their infant years, their choice to learn now will go a long way to create a learner.

You can model the choice for them. You choose to become a learner of new things.

My quadriplegic patient taught me nuances of choice that I might never have learned without him.

Like PBS Mysteries. I’m still hooked. My choice now.

Exercise your power of choice by choosing to learn something new to you.

How to be a blogger has become my New-to-me choice to learn. You could participate in this project by choosing to Subscribe to the weekly email delivery of my blog posts. I’ll send you a nice thank-you and a gift.


Think about choices that were made by others for you. How did they influence you?

Think about choices that you have made. What were they? How did the results measure up to your expectations?

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