My Teacher Lightbulb Moment – Part 1

Fellow blogger Don at Don Ostertag: Off Stage recently commented, “If only other teachers were children at heart.”

It hit home with me, because that is when I became a ‘real’ teacher.  That’s when I found my heart.  No, that’s when I melded with children’s hearts.

It happened like this…

I was always a good teacher.  I planned exciting lessons.  Children loved me.  Parents were happy.  Yet, back then I never understood there was more to being a teacher.  Well, perhaps I never realized it at the time.

Early on in my preschool teaching, I interacted with children with the best of intentions, yet often struggled to feel that I had made a connection, much less a difference.  Even though I was always a caring and kind teacher, there was a self imposed ‘you and me wall’.  I was the teacher, and you were the student.  Teaching meant teaching information, in a caring environment.  Yes, I was a good teacher, but I didn’t fully understand how important love was until that day, thirty years ago.

It was nap time at school, late in the fall, the time of year when children and teachers were comfortable with each other.  There I was, lying on my back, looking across the classroom.  All the children were asleep, except Andrew, a child who was often distant and sometimes challenging.  He was the boy I had not really connected with.  He saw me, and I saw him.  We both smiled, simultaneously, knowing everybody else was asleep.

At that moment, there was nobody else on the whole earth.  It was just Andrew and me.  He knew it and I knew it.  This was deep, and forgiving, and enlightening.  I understood; love has no preconceived agenda.  It is ‘there’, regardless of circumstances.  Most importantly, love usually isn’t met with a lot of fanfare.  In fact, it is the little things that often express love.  The intensity of that moment is still with me.  It changed me.

It was my teacher lightbulb moment.

In education, I learned that if love comes first, then teaching becomes deeper, better, more focused, and more energized.  The children learn because I have put them first.

I had it backwards, carefully planning a curriculum and activities, and then fitting the children into those plans.  Not that it was bad or didn’t work; it just was…well, lacking the passion that comes from the heart of children. Oh, children know how a teacher really feels.  So, thanks to Andrew, I started to change.

First, lunchtime became a forum to learn about the children and really listen to them.  I learned so many little things, like the names of pets and grandparents, what a big brother does, the color of a bike.  These were little things, yet they became the building blocks.  We often debated deep subjects, such as if a girl can marry a girl, or if people go to heaven when they die.  Everyone’s opinion was valued.

The day that Kelly told us her dog, Bruno, had died; the class did not know what to say.  I told her that my dog had died years ago, and I was very sad.  Then, a child asked Kelly if she was sad.  The following thirty minutes was spent with heartfelt children telling each other about grandparents and pets who had died, and all the feelings and questions that naturally follow.  At that moment, lunch was far less important than what was happening, and could wait.  The building blocks were working.

The floodgates of real teaching opened.  It was a joy.

A number of bloggers have shared this video.  It’s a teacher who understands that all the academics can’t happen until there is a connection and love with teachers and children.

Stay tuned for Part 2, my journey of connecting with children and becoming a ‘real’ teacher.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving, Inspiration, joy, preschool, Teaching young children, wonder, young children and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

98 Responses to My Teacher Lightbulb Moment – Part 1

  1. joylennick says:

    If only there were more ‘Jennie teachers’ around! Wouldn’t that be something… Because of evacuation and WW2, my education was fractured (7 schools in all) and I didn’t do my English A Lit, exam until my early sixties…Teachers were mostly kind and patient, despite expected difficulties at times (sirens and raid interruptions), but my peace-time/part-time teacher was ace, despite his strict demeanor. It seemed to work out in the end, as I then wrote and had nine books published (first at 52.) I was a ‘teacher’s assistant’ for ten years too, happy days…Lovely memories for you Jennie! xx

  2. GP says:

    Leave it to Don to put things into perspective.
    I think that picture says it all for you!

  3. Ritu says:

    Love your thinking here, Jennie 😊

  4. Great advice. Love, caring for one another, needs to come first. Thanks for sharing.

  5. quiall says:

    Being a teacher is a job. Being a good teacher is a calling. Being a great teacher is a lifestyle.

  6. riyab82 says:

    Loved every word. The teacher-student connection is extremely important and not all teachers are able to attain it, een if they try sometimes……

  7. That photo says it all! I wish there more teachers like you, Jennie.

  8. Twindaddy says:

    You sound like a phenomenal teacher. Thank you for pouring your heart into our youth.

  9. Kindness for living. Good reminder Jennie.

  10. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much! You are an inspiration!

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Please read and enjoy this excellent post from the extraordinary teacher, Jennie!

  12. your legacy are the seeds of knowledge you have planted in your students Jennie.

  13. Great video, Jennie. That is a teacher who “gets it.” Connecting leads to learning.

  14. So sweet. You are wonderful.

  15. beetleypete says:

    I just wish all the other teachers could have that same lightbulb moment, Jennie. You are a real jewel in the world of teaching.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  16. Hi Jennie, I recall reading about Andrew before and your discovery of the path to real teaching for you. Amazing.

  17. Lightbulb moments are so good because they can get us over the hump or (as it did for me) chart a new direction. Amazing how they can be so unexpected. Thanks for sharing you. Cheers to Steve Hartman and the people he captures – including the teacher he features in the video. The look on the student’s faces when he walked through the door was priceless!

    • Jennie says:

      Hi Frank, yes those lightbulb moments are a very good thing. They are random and definitely unexpected. What was yours in the classroom? Thank you for sharing the fabulous video. I got it from a few bloggers, and how could I not include it in my blog post? Those students when he walked in…priceless!

  18. beth says:

    Here’s to you and all of the teachers who get it!

  19. Every time I read one of your kindness/real teacher posts, I think about what type of world we could have if students had this experience throughout their education, not just in preschool or the primary grades.

    • Jennie says:

      Liz, I think about that all the time. Fortunately there are many wonderful teachers. Unfortunately many are swamped with ridiculous paperwork and overcrowded classrooms. It’s hard to connect with children in that environment. And, children are desperate for a connection, anything, from a teacher. Did you see the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus?” He figured it out, his lightbulb moment came when he could relate popular music (the Beatles) with the music he was required to teach. So what’s the answer? Give students what you love. I give reading aloud, storytelling, and music. Then listen with an open heart and mind to children. It’s really that simple, even for high school. Apologizes for the ramble. Thank you!

  20. Don Ostertag says:

    I am thrilled to have prompted you to tell this wonderful moment, Jennie. And hearing that your life took a different direction from the smile of a child. And I hope Andrew would somehow know how he influenced the lives of so many children who were ‘taught’ by you.
    You love also extends to older people and real old people, via your blog.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you are thrilled! Thank you again for that comment. See all the good things that words can trigger? Yes, my teaching took quite a different turn with that child’s smile. Thank goodness. I think Andrew knows, because he was witness to the change. I’m glad my love extends to older people and really old people (like me) with my blog. That’s #1. Best to you, Don.

  21. Thanks for sharing this great moment, Jennie.

  22. I think every teacher needs to have such a lightbulb moment to become a real teacher. You are definitely the best role model ever, Jennie! Maybe they should clone you, at the MIT. 😉 xx Michael

  23. petespringerauthor says:

    Thank goodness for these light bulb moments, and bless you for sharing them. I can just see Andrew and you connecting through your shared secret.

    I had one of those moments where a child came to me before school and asked if he could tell the class of his dog’s passing. It was tricky because who knows what experience others had with death. My instinct said this child’s needs are more important than any lesson. I wish I could say it went as well as I hoped. He felt good about sharing, then other kids raised their hands and wanted to share about their pets. One of them started crying, which led to others getting upset. All of a sudden, it was like a giant therapy session.🙁 One of the kids said, “Can we please stop talking about this?” Needless to say, we did. I’m not even going to second guess my original decision, but that was one time it didn’t work out well for me.

    If you haven’t joined the Kindness 101 Facebook group mentioned in the video, you must join. There is so much great content, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Pete. These lightbulb moments are terrific. Okay, I think (know) you made the right decision with letting the child tell about his dog’s passing. Even when other children cried, they needed to cry. A giant therapy session can be really important. I scrapped lunch when the child told us that her dog, Bruno, died. That was a giant therapy session. The children needed that. Pete, I beg to differ, I really think your lightbulb moment was a huge success. It gave the child a big emotional boost, and others needed to talk, too. You know the silent listeners soaked it up. I bet the kid who asked to stop talking about it had a lot to say, deep inside. I’m sorry to disagree, but in all the chaos, this was a wonderful moment.

      I am headed over to join the Kindness 101 Facebook group!

      • petespringerauthor says:

        It was one of those shades of gray moments. Given the same circumstances, I’d do the same thing.

        I’m sure I’ll see you over there, my friend. You’ll find a lot of other Jennies.😎

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, you would do the same thing again. I’m approved and accepted on FB. See you there! 😀

    • Jennie says:

      Hooray, I just became a member of Kindness 101.

  24. And this is why you are my favorite of all teachers, Jennie! I’ll have to look at the video later. I have company this week so I’m doing quiet things right now. 😉 Happy Thanksgiving.

  25. Carla says:

    Unfortunately I can’t see the video in my country, but I am sure it is a winner, just like you are Jennie. I used to ask teachers who were not connecting to their students if they even liked kids, because that is what it is all about. Love, Joy, Connection.

    • Jennie says:

      I remember sending the video when I was on the Kelly Clarkson Show, and people outside the US could not see it. How sad! And I guess that happens a lot. Thank you, Carla. Yes, it’s all about love, joy, and connection. ❤️

  26. K.L. Hale says:

    Jennie, you’re an inspiration! It’s all about the love and your students know it! I wish all teachers had this “lightbulb” moment! But it really starts in the heart,…sadly, it has to be felt. Your students FEEL it; thus, they learn from you because you hold the key to success through unlocking their hearts! You’re a blessing! 💛💛💛

  27. bosssybabe says:

    Jennie, every time I read these heartfelt posts I get so jealous that Charlotte does not have a teacher like you in her life… I know the teachers she has are great but I so see the connection and effort you put in with your classroom and students, it warms my heart. How lucky the children are- and I know you feel lucky to do what you do as well! 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Awww…that’s so nice, Jen. There really are many wonderful teachers out there, like Charlotte’s. It took me many years to be the teacher I am today. Remember this; all teachers are not writers, and few write about things like connecting with children. So, often those things are happening in the classroom, and you just don’t know. Most teachers write to parents about curriculum, which is what most parents want to know. Those wonderful moments are still happening in the classroom.

      I remember a staff meeting years ago trying to tell/help teachers take a ‘moment’ that happened in their classroom and write about it to families. I brought examples, told stories, on and on. The silence was deafening. Sigh!

  28. Some people, like you, Jennie, are born teachers. Others, like one particular teacher I had, need to find other jobs.

  29. Darlene says:

    You hit the nail on the head here, Jennie. Genuine love for the children has to come first. Because they know it. I love the story of you and Andrew.

    • Jennie says:

      Exactly! Thank you, Darlene. I’ll never forget that moment with Andrew. I’m so glad you love that story. 🙂

      • Darlene says:

        Have you thought of writing a guide for teachers? You could use many of your blog posts like this one for instance.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, I have. Some bloggers have told me on the side I should write my memoirs, which would be formatted as inspiration for teachers and parents. It’s on the back burner. 🙂 I just finished Part 2, which will multiply what you have read in Part 1. I’ll post it in a day or two, and I’d appreciate your continued thoughts on the book topic. Thank you, Darlene!

  30. Pingback: My Teacher Lightbulb Moment – Part 1 –

  31. What a wonderful experience for those kids – I love how you make space for feelings and empathy in your classroom, Jennie. On to part 2.

  32. Mark Hekima says:

    You got me at “if love comes first, then teaching becomes deeper”
    I can’t emphasize beyond that, love wins it all, building that rapport with the kids goes a long way in instilling cherished moral values in them.

    Such an enlightening post Jennie.

  33. Norah says:

    That’s just beautiful, Jennie, and I totally agree with you.
    I couldn’t watch the video. I’m wondering if it’s the Rita Pierson one. If it’s not, could you send me the YouTube link please so I can watch it.

  34. Pingback: My Teacher Lightbulb Moment – Part 1 – ESL/ENGLISH learners corner

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