We were playing with our manufacturing patterns yesterday. These are another type of industrial waste we've repurposed for the classroom.
This picture was taken back in October, hence the pumpkins
If I teach according to any pedagogy at all it's that I really, really feel like a failure whenever I find myself bossing kids around. I don't like a classroom full of sit downs and stop doing thats. I want the kids doing things because they made their own decisions rather than because they are forced into it by a bigger, stronger adult. So when one of our older boys started picking up the smaller patterns, which are still quite large and heavy, and drop-tossed them one at a time into a big pile, his cackle and grin betraying his inner knowledge that what he was up to was outside the boundaries, I said, "I'm worried you're going to hurt yourself or someone else when you toss the patterns like that."
He had arrived in class with his mischievous side turned outward. I had already that morning pointed out to him other behaviors that seemed hazardous to his well-being, like trying to climb atop unstable arrangements of the patterns. There weren't many other kids around as he tossed them, so it was really just him I was worried about. I was hoping that my informative statements about my own concerns, as opposed to a directive statement like, "Stop throwing the patterns!" would give him the opportunity to come to his own conclusion and change his behavior according to an internal rather than external motivation. I also know that with most kids, and especially boys, you often have to leave a space in time for your statements to sink in. In the meantime, he picked up another pattern and, sure enough, as if on cue, managed to drop it on his own finger.
I was not the closest adult to him when it happened, Katherine and Lachlan's mom Kimberly was right beside him, so there was really no need for me to make a move in his direction. He looked right at me as his eyes clenched in response to the pain. I simply said, "I was worried that would happen." And as Kimberly gathered him onto her lap, checking his finger for blood or other signs of greater injury, his wail of pain filled the room. Of course this drew kids into the area. I looked at the other children and said, "People often get hurt when they throw blocks."
I could have prevented that injury. I saw it coming in the abstract, if not in its specifics. And believe me, it has been gnawing at me for the past 24 hours that I didn't get up off my butt, walk over to him and put an end to the behavior that ended in a smashed finger. I'm bigger, stronger and could have very easily put a hand on the pattern and prevented him from tossing it. And I'm worried that my response appeared cold and uncaring, although Kimberly's was not. The saving grace, to me, was that it didn't turn out to be anything serious. He sat on Kimberly's lap until his sobbing subsided, then slowly got back into the action. And while the children still played rather wildly with the manufacturing patterns, no one else tried throwing them.
I do care deeply about what happened. I'm trying to persuade myself this morning, that as painful as it was for him, the incident may well have prevented other children from getting hurt who may have otherwise joined in his pattern throwing game. I'm trying to tell myself that his moment of pain may be just the lesson he needed to prevent a future, even worse, injury. I'm trying to tell myself that the joyful, productive play that took place in that area during the rest of the morning was seasoned by a little caution wrought by his injury. All of these are rationale that come directly from my own pedagogy about the importance of incorporating risk and allowing children to learn through real world experience.
I've written a lot lately about the importance of providing a learning environment that is not sanitized and devoid of "pokey bits," most recently in this post (which includes links to other writing on the topic). It's actually a fairly easy thing to write about in theory, but it's a very hard thing to execute in the real world.
His pain was real. I hope it leads to real learning. My feelings are real and pedagogy provides but cold comfort.
Teaching is hard.