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.