As I've been listening to the songs on Deborah Stewart's new CD, Simple Songs for Preschool, I've been reminded of the beauty of straight-forward simplicity when it comes to teaching young children. It's a much more challenging thing to achieve than the word suggests. I regularly find myself falling into the trap of adding all kinds of bells and whistles that ultimately come to stand between me and the children. Returning to Mister Rogers reminds me to strip those away, fall to my knees, and just be present for children. Whatever pedagogy, techniques, or orientation one employs, there is nothing more important between a teacher and student than the act of clearing out that metaphorical space between us, leaving it as simple as possible. When I'm doing it right, love is the only thing that's left there.
I haven't shared anything from Mister Rogers for awhile:
One summer, midway through Seminary. I was on a weekend vacation in a little town in New England. I decided on Sunday to go hear a visiting preacher in the little town's chapel. I heard the worst sermon I could have every imagined. I sat in the pew thinking, "He's going against every rule they're teaching us about preaching. What a waste of time!" That's what I thought until the very end of the sermon when I happened to see the person beside me with tears in her eyes whispering, "He said exactly what I needed to hear." It was then that I knew something very important had happened in that service. The woman beside me had come in need. Somehow the words of that poorly crafted sermon had been translated into a message that spoke to her heart. On the other hand, I had come in judgement, and I heard nothing but faults.
It was a long time before I realized it, but that sermon's effect on the person beside me turned out to be one of the greatest lessons of my life. Thanks to that preacher and listener-in-need, I now know that the space between a person doing his or her best to deliver a message of good news and the needy listener is holy ground. Recognizing that seems to have allowed me to forgive myself for being the accuser that day. In fact, that New England Sunday experience has fueled my desire to be a better advocate, a better "neighbor," wherever I am.