• Jena Martin MD


I’m a pathologist, and I’ve got some tips for effective home teaching! Want to get your kids enthusiastic about biology? I love to share information about biology with my two teen daughters and I can help you with your new home-schooling responsibilities!

April Fools!

Let's be even clearer - this Pandemic push for immediate remote home schooling has made all of us fools in April. Like a lot of people in my socioeconomic bracket, I'm a sucker for the kind of message I spoofed above - help your kid do more/be better. The dark side to these exhortations is internal despair (how can I teach my kids/work/cook/sleep?) and frustration (why don't my won kids seem to enjoy learning?)

Yes, I’m a pathologist and I do love to share information about biology, but my kids really don’t like it when I do. I've tried, and here's the link to prove it. But all I’ve managed to inculcate in them is a love of television.

I’ve always thought I’d be a great Biology teacher. That was before I tried to teach my daughters.  I got a head start on this frustrating process we’re all experiencing in the Covid Pandemic several years ago when I actually thought it'd be fun to teach them during summer evenings.

My daughters were just 11 and 9, old enough, I thought, to memorize the basics about plant and animal cell structure.  The next summer we learned all about DNA, and then the last thing I tried to teach them was about blood cells. I'm not a flexible science teacher; I'm extremely good at rote learning, and so I thought just drilling the information would be a good method. (Spoiler: it was not).

Nevertheless like all doctors I have an inflated sense of my ability to make this stuff interesting!   After all, medical education is built on doctors teaching each other.  "See one, do one, teach one" is often recited during training. Medicine is founded on the idea of ‘teachable moments’, with every patient interaction or rare disease encounter serving as the basis of a possible lecture.  I'm good at teaching pathology residents when we sit at the microscope together - my kids should be no different, right?

Truthfully, I’ve never been very good at actually playing with my kids. I grew up as an only child who liked to read and play quietly with dolls and crafts. Spending time teaching my kids seemed like one way to connect, even if it was with their frontal lobes only.

However, and here’s my truly teachable moment for you - none of these efforts worked. Neither of my daughters was fired up about science, neither of them took off and did their own research, and no one here has developed a life-saving compound.  It's ridiculous that we tell ourselves stories where that is an expectation. And none of that is their fault. I mean, who wants to be taught things by their mom? I’m oppositional enough myself that I would have categorically rejected subject matter my parents relayed - something they would never have considered doing anyway, as they were parents before parenting was a verb.

If you’re still feeling like you’re missing out on enriching your quarenteens, you should know that all these attempts at Summer Science School seemed to have had unintended results - my oldest blew off the cell unit during her science class!  Because she’d already learned the parts of the cell, the material in her class seemed easy. Really easy that is, until all of a sudden it wasn't. She now knows the nasty reality that science builds upon itself. She was almost instantly behind and frustrated. Cue the despair and complaining, again.

Now, home together on lockdown, we’re learning together, but it's about baking bread, or how to fix our toilet. The only thing I'm hoping to school them in during this time is that they are safe, loved, and appreciated. Only then can they feel confident enough to become resourceful, which may be the most valuable skill during the months and years to come.

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