TEACHING MEANS YOU ALWAYS GET SCHOOLED.
It would be no surprise that I told you I enjoyed learning. I mean, I've been in the classroom since I was six year sold - pretty much nonstop. I love books, words, and ideas, but what I really am amazed by is all the things my students teach me.
Let me tell you about a girl in my class. She's a fifth grader. Let's say her name is Rebecca. She has a wonderfully sweet spirit of kindness and compassion. She is the kid who runs to the other kid who is crying. She's the one who is there to pick up whatever stuff you've dropped. She has a well of kindness that would be impressive in an adult, but seems phenomenal in a student. I have praised her for her acts of kindness (privately, she doesn't like fuss) on more than one occasion. She blushes, and averts her eyes. I want her to understand that her kindness is a beautiful, unique strength and something she should trust.
She is particularly kind to some of our students who are differently-abled. They don't follow norms, or behave in ways that are considered acceptable. I love the patient way she works around any outbursts or reactions. She never seems to flinch if they behave in anger, she simply smiles sweetly and continues on. I want to be like her. I want to live in a world where everyone is like her.
She is particularly kind to a classmate who I will call Adam. Adam does not follow the norms of society. He tries to fit in, and wants to make friends, but he can't quite seem to unravel the great mysteries of human interaction. He doesn't understand what things you CAN say out loud and what things you can't. She seems to have an infinite kind of patience with him. If he gets upset about something, she just smiles at him and says, "Oh, Adam. You are so silly."
I should mention that my whole class is patient with him. They are calm in his moments of anger, and when he complains that he has no friends, they say to him, "Oh, Adam. I'm your friend." They have gone to school with him for ages, and they understand that he is differently-abled. They have no expectation for him to follow their pattern of behaviors or to react they would. They accept that he is who he is.
There is such a beauty in having a school experience like this. They are learning important social understanding and compassion right along with everything else. They learn their math facts, and how to communicate with all kinds of people. They know how to create and give presentations in class, and they know how to adjust their pace of communication for someone who needs things explained slower and in smaller pieces. They know how to work collaboratively - not just with students who are comfortable working in a group but also with kids who find speaking out loud challenge. They learn so much more than how to multiply, add and subtract.
But I'm the one who has been learning the most. I really like the kind of teacher I am becoming. I like that I have to make a conscious decision to slow my pace, to put on an armor of patience, and thoughtfully consider when I should push and when I should just relax. I like the person that Adam is making me become, and I hope that I am becoming a lot more like Rebecca - calm, kind and patient.
I like the community we've built, too. The other day, Adam was having a difficult day. He was angry and fractious and feeling particularly negative. "No one likes me." He muttered, more than once. So when it became to read with a partner, I knew that allowing my students to pick their partners would be big struggle for him. While the rest of the class would run to their buddies, he would sit alone, unmoving and fully convinced that no one liked him. My struggle of course would be to respect the desires of my students to experience autonomy during reading class, and his need to be reassured. So I put a plan that we had discussed one afternoon when Adam was out of class, into action.
"Okay, so now it is time to partner read." I told them. "And let me see, Adam? Do you want me to pick a partner, or do you want to pick one yourself?"
"No one likes me. Who would read with me?" He was sullen and angry.
I turned to my class and crossed my fingers, hoping that not only would they remember what we had discussed, but they would really follow through and do it. "No, you've got tons of friends. Who wants to read with Adam?"
They raised their hands. All. Of. Them. It was beautifully sweet, and not at all a reading lesson, but so necessary. He didn't quite no how to respond to this out-pouring, and huffed. But after I sent him off to read with a willing classmate, he went. They sat together reading, two heads bent together over a book.
It isn't like we've had days and days of talking about compassion, empathy and patience. We have these brief little chats where we talk about a problem - Adam's panic over picking a partner or his frustration when things change too quickly -- and we come up with a solution. Together - as a group. It is a really beautiful thing to be a part of, and it is so sweet to see it in action.
I feel like I am forever in school; forever learning. My students teach me so much, and I feel so fortunate to spend my days with them; all of them. They easy-going ones like Rebecca, and the ones that are a unique puzzle that I can't quite unravel all at once, like Adam. They cause me to slow down, pause, rethink, and try again. They push me to find ways to be a better teacher.
I never want to stop learning.