Three times in the past week, I was taken aback by what was said about the relationships in a classroom. First, I spoke with a school administrator about a staff workshop on the topic of project based learning. She bemoaned the fact that children “don’t care about learning anymore without bells and whistles.” Days later, I attended a workshop at which the facilitator commented that being a teacher in a classroom is “lonely.” Finally, I received an email from a prior workshop attendee asking if I would comment for an article about the difficulty of the increased number of special needs students in typical early childhood classrooms. I do not think children have stopped wanting to learn. I have never seen teaching as lonely. I see the increased number of special needs children as a way to challenge our preconceived notions and educational skill set but not as a difficulty. Needless to say, I had much to contribute to that article that probably won’t be in the published version.
I see a disconnect. When did teachers stop being a part of their students’ world? I would like to blame the standardized testing, product producing environment that has penetrated too many classrooms but I’m not convinced this is the only issue. While the ever increasing technology has produced a generation with a different skill set and perspective than the one before, both teachers and parents are still obligated to reach toward and connect to our youth. We are one community in the classroom and in our homes. Early childhood through college, teachers and parents should be a part of the learning process. It is not only my job, as a teacher or parent, to impart wisdom and manage behavior. It is also my job to figure out what makes the young people I interact with curious, engaged and participatory learners.
There is a give and take in any adult/child relationship. We all have to figure each other out. Young people need to figure out the boundaries in every situation. They test us all the time. They need to understand exactly how much each adult will tolerate in their behavior, actions and conversations. It is their job to push us. That is where their job begins and ends. It is my job as a parent and as an educator to reach to them. I need to figure out what makes them curious and expand upon that. I need to figure out what activities give them ownership over their learning so they can get lost in it. I need to listen more than I talk and look for the deeper meaning in the questions they ask. Their questions are just the top layer of their curiosity. We need to probe to find out how and what they are thinking.
I don’t believe that children don’t care about learning without bells and whistles. The bells and whistles – computers, tablets, smartphones – when used properly and not in place of human interaction, are merely their research tools. They don’t make children less curious. All animals are naturally curious. We need to give them the confidence gained from being right, the chance to make decisions without critique and an environment that promotes exploration rather than correct answers on a worksheet. If children seem less curious, it is because we have failed to probe and to listen.
Special needs students are our teachers. They force us to think outside of our boxes. They are not in any way required to get into a box with us. Just when I think I know how to connect with young people or address a behavior, a student comes along and proves me wrong. I am forced to take time out of my everyday obligations to think and consider how to change what I do to include and engage them. I don’t always succeed and I have to accept that I cannot change who they are in order to make this life easier for them. If special needs students are perceived as difficult, it is because we have failed to take an opportunity to learn and to find what gifts they offer the world.
Teaching is anything but lonely – unless, of course, you don’t see yourself as part of the learning environment. For me, lonely would be sitting in a cubicle piled high with papers that I don’t care about and don’t make me think. Classrooms are full of human interaction, questioning, discussing, challenging and learning from one another. We need to join with our students and not expect them to join with us. In early childhood classrooms, I sit in the small chairs and become a part of their world. I take this background with me when I teach older students and even adults. When I give speeches or lecture, I am always uncomfortable behind a podium. I tend to walk away from it and toward the audience. The podium separates me from the community. When I am not tied to technology and the limits of how far a wire or cable will reach, you will find me walking through the room and sitting among my students. I don’t do this to merely manage behavior and watch for sneaky cell phone users. I do this to create a room psychology that includes me. I am a part of them. I am facilitating but I am also an active listener and learner. The knowledge I have is best imparted when students are spoken with and not at. In all the years that I have taught all ages, I have not for one minute felt lonely. If you think teaching is lonely, you have failed to join the class.
When children are babies, we reach to them all the time. We pick them up. We bend down to help them. We are contortionists trying to satisfy their needs when they are strapped into car seats. We have to keep reaching toward them as they grow. Just because they are too heavy to pick up, doesn’t mean they don’t need us to connect with them.
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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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