Times have changed. Teaching has far more demands than it used to. Required paperwork, overcrowded classes, and lack of support begins to take its toll. At first it all seems manageable. That fire of wanting to teach keeps the motor running. Then bit by bit, as demands and expectations increase, it becomes more difficult to keep the fire burning. The love becomes lost.
Teachers are quitting.
Children have changed, too. Their lives have less (or little) room for play. Most of their waking hours are structured – from school to sports to after school activities. Oh, and then the homework. Frankly, homework in the early grades should be reading. Period.
Children are often coming to school feeling everything from anger to being overwhelmed. They may not know why, they just know they aren’t feeling happy.
Is it any wonder that America’s children are ranked 26th in reading among the world?
I am a teacher. I have seen the wear and tear on other teachers. I have seen children who are failing to thrive in school. Yet, I have found an answer, a way, that makes a difference. It keeps me going, and it makes a world of difference to the children I teach. I call it “The Hundred Little Things.”
Many years ago when I began teaching, I was a good teacher. Yet, there was a faint ‘you and me wall.’ All teachers have it. It labels our job. It is the distinction between the teacher and the student. It’s not a bad thing at all. Actually, it’s necessary and natural. Then something remarkable happened, a moment with a child. Andrew was a child who was often distant. I just hadn’t connected with him. One day at rest time, after chapter reading, I was laying down on the floor rubbing children’s backs. The room was dark and all the children had fallen asleep – except for Andrew. I turned my head and so did he. Our eyes met at the same time. We both smiled. It was a moment, a knowing moment, as if we were the only two people in the whole world.
It changed me. I became a child-centered teacher. My curriculum and focus was now based on the interests of the children. More importantly, I was keenly aware of how children felt, not just feelings of anger or happiness, but feelings of interest and disinterest. If an activity was so-so, I scrapped it. If something lit a fuse, I fanned the fire. Often that ‘something’ was sparked by a story or a song. For example, the continuous singing of a favorite song could drive a teacher crazy. Instead, I tried to see it from the perspective of the child, and I allowed them to build on the song – eventually making a quilt that hangs in a national place of prominence.
The faint ‘you and me wall’ was gone.
If I could hang onto what children loved, remembering and focusing on those moments, that filled me up. I felt joyful. The day at school could have been awful, but if there was something, a remarkable question, a deep discussion during chapter reading, a spontaneous hug, a belly laugh, discovering something in nature, then that was the important part of my day. Obviously it was the important part of the children’s day, too.
I was not only surviving teaching, I was thriving. I was becoming ‘one’ with children. I found joy. And every time I embraced a moment, children knew. How did this effect them? They burst, exploding with more questions and ideas. And I responded in kind.
I decided to write about those moments, those ‘hundred little things’. That helped cement what happened each day, and kept me focused on what really mattered. And, I could then pass those stories along to parents and fellow teachers. “See what happened today? This is what the children learned/enjoyed/questioned.” was my message. That writing has fanned my fire, keeping teaching survival in the right focus (the children) and keeping joy alive.
I have survived teaching and found joy.