I had been teaching for two years when it dawned on me I had no philosophy about what I was doing. Even if I were the best teacher imaginable, I reasoned, with a classroom filled with the brightest of the bright, we probably couldn't cover all of American history in one year. So, the next best thing would be to make the course interesting enough that they would want to keep learning more long after our history classes at Encinal High had faded into the past.

Why had Andrew Jackson fought those duels the teacher mentioned? What shaped Abraham Lincoln's character so that he thought quite differently about our government than his predecessor, James Buchanan? Why weren't women treated as equals in those earlier times? Why? Why? Why?

Now, however, we've settled into another school year. How's it going at your house? Assuming the main reason you've sent your young ones to school is to learn, are you checking to see if they are?

Don't be intimidated. A parent can help a child learn even though he may know nothing about the subject being taught at school. Booker Washington's mother encouraged him to learn to read even though she couldn't read herself. She would point out a word in the book he carried around and have him ask someone what it meant and how to say it. ... a smart lady!

Now, back to today. Remember, the student is now the instructor. Whether it's algebra, geometry or simple second-grade math, the student should be expected to tell a parent what has been learned that day in school. But don't just stick with math; switch around from day to day. Stories in English class, what's happening in art, new songs being learned. If you aren't interested, why should your child be?

But keep it light. If a parent becomes a harsh taskmaster, it could become a daily grind, defeating our main purpose -- wanting to learn.

And, here's the extra payoff: By passing on the information to someone else, students reinforce the information in their own minds.

Ask any teacher. If you teach something to others, you get a better grasp of it yourself.

Also, especially from seventh grade on, encourage the student to take notes on what is being heard and what is being read. The physical process itself reinforces learning. We learn in many different ways.

We do have to recognize that young people today have far more distractions than in former times. Nevertheless, this, too, can be overcome by parents who show they really care what their young folks are doing.

AN IMMIGRANT from an Eastern European country is in a night school English class:

"Teacher," he asks, "What does this mean, 'It's a piece of cake?' My boss, he says it all the time."

And the teacher responds, "Oh, Ivan, that just means 'It's as easy as pie.'"

Contact Joe King at alame- danews@bayareanews- group.com.