Monday, August 09, 2010

Shut Up, Teacher Tom


I am so deeply grateful that the parents of Woodland Park allow me to play with their children. Mister Rogers, who was an ordained Presbyterian pastor, said that his work with children was his ministry. I get that, although more often than not I feel that I'm just a congregant in this church in which there are no sermons, no evangelizing, no preaching. The lessons taught aren't ones pulled from an ancient text or screened by some commission of elders, but rather the deeper ones that can only be learned through example.


There are days when I get caught up in the conventional trappings of being a "teacher." I talk too much, for instance. Isn't that what a teacher does, tell children things they don't know so that they can then know them? I demonstrate too much. Isn't that what a teacher does, show children things they can't do so that they can then do them? I behave like a superior being, a font of knowledge, an authority on all things. Isn't that what a teacher does, rain his vast grown-up experience down on children like they are seeds that need him to sprout and grow? 


Shut up, Teacher Tom! Stand back! Open your senses to the rain of wisdom falling all around you!


I'm castigating myself a bit this morning as I look through my photos, being inspired by all those moments of focus, concentration, and just being that I've accidentally captured as I tried to find ways to illustrate the blog story I want to tell you the next day. I'm struck by how there is no past and no future: there is only this moment. There are no things, but just this thing in front of me. There is nothing to learn, beyond what that moment and thing or thought or feeling or person can teach me.


In the crash and bang of the world around them, the laughing, screaming and crying of their classmates, the infernal yammering of Teacher Tom, young children have a truly holy ability to lose the boundaries of themselves becoming one with the only thing that is real: now.


I don't know many adults who can do this without resorting to the artificiality of things like meditation or medication. A meditation teacher once explained to me that all she does is remind adults how to stare out a window like they did as a child.


Maybe we think it's impolite or impolitic to allow our minds to connect fully with the moment, as if our acknowledgment of the other people at all times is an imperative.


Maybe our minds simply cannot slow down and dismiss the worry or guilt or anticipation or planning long enough to just be.


Maybe we think we'll just wait until we sleep.


Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, who needs young children in his life to teach me these important lessons. It's not something I talk about much. I know people already think I'm something of a loony, leftist, hippie throwback, and maybe I don't open my mouth about it because I don't want to prove them right.


But when I'm with the children, I can just be. And the more I do that, the more I am the student, the better I am as a teacher. This is how I recently taught a 2-year-old about a siphon:





Shut up, Teacher Tom. Stand back. Learn. Teach. Play. Be.

Amen.

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20 comments:

Life with Kaishon said...

Children are the best teachers.

'Youth is a perpetual intoxication; it is a fever of the mind.' ~Fran├žois Duc de la Rochefoucauld

shar said...

Beautifully expressed and I understand perfectly. I am sure you are articulating what many teachers feel, I hope so, it would be sad if not...

Michelle said...

Ah, sometimes the essence of being a teacher... is not always being the teacher.
You have the wonderful ability to put into such eloquent words what so many people are feeling. Thank you.

Floor Pie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Floor Pie said...

Thanks for this. I often feel like I'm supposed to be talking more when I'm in the classroom, but I so prefer to just *be* with the children and let them discover instead of interpreting their experience for them.

jenny said...

Hi Tom, this post really resonated with me. I'm not so much trying to "shut up" as "slow down". Sometimes I think I run around like a headless chook trying to have new experiences out for the kids (especially when I've seen something I think they will love on a blog somewhere) and think that I create a bit of a whirlwind of chaos and end up trying to entertain the kids instead of letting them truly engage in their play experiences. So you can "shut up" and I'll chant "less is more".

Deborah said...

Tom,
I want you to know that I have been telling myself to "shut up" all summer long:) I go in daily to three local school and observe teachers and their preschoolers. I take my camera with me to take photos for my blog in the process. While in these classrooms, I always am tempted to say something to the teachers or students about their work, process, skills, and so on... But instead, I tell myself to just shut up and pay attention.

My camera is something that gives me unique perspective. It helps me to focus on what the children are focusing on in a way I have never done before. Because I don't take photos of children's faces but instead of what they are doing - I have learned to appreciate early childhood learning and processes from new and very inspiring perspective. Just once in awhile, I take a photo that is so impactful in the moment that I hand the camera over to the teacher to see. The teacher also sees something new. The view from behind a camera can teach us much if we are looking at the process and not just cute little faces:)

Now I will shut up too!

rachelle @ tinkerlab.com said...

Hi Tom,
I found your blog through Jenny, and this post really resonates with me. I'm an art educator/parent and in my own blog, tinkerlab.com, I spent the past week documenting what my child gravitates toward in an attempt to shut off my own censors, teaching moments, and adult guidance. While it's no doubt valuable to provide children with opportunities to explore and learn, we don't have to be didactic about what it is that they're learning. All in all, beautifully said. I'm a fan!
Rachelle

Noah said...

gorgeous.

Thanks, Tom.

child central station said...

I've had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of a program called UP Teen Leadership which sprouted out of PIPfest. I can't tell you how much I support the teachings of the program, life changing for most folks. One of the great pieces I learned there is the acronym- WAIT: Why Am I Talking? It really makes you stop and observe as you reflect before you open your mouth. Is it necessary? What value does it add? etc. Great post about being in the moment. I also designed a line of "Just Be" shirts that helps support the program- Adventures in Storytelling which is a merging of adults who work with young people in the same programs. If you are interested in the program or the Just Be shirts check out www.adventuresinstorytelling.webs.com

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Amen Tom!
But you know your blog readers are glad you have not completely shut up.
I just returned to blog reading and writing after a summer hiatus, and Tom, I have 25 posts of yours to catch up on! Whoa! Keep it up. And I will get back to reading now...

Scott said...

I learn so much when I shut up and watch...listen. And, when we are talking, I'm learning to say "Tell me about that" and listen rather than try to explain or comment.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for your blog. I am a stay at home Mum in Australia and was looking for ideas for my little ones. Your words and approach are so refreshing. I love seeing the adventures your students create :) Thankyou.

josfamilydaycare said...

The other day my 6 year old son saw me reading "The Power of Now" and he asked me what the book is about. I told him that I'm reading a book that is going to teach me how to see the world through his eyes! It's funny that we spend our youth wanting to grow up and our adult life trying to see the world through the eyes of a child. I find it incredible that your post came through a this inspirational time of my life! Thank You!

Amie Plumley said...

I needed that reminder - thank you.

kristin said...

ha! i grew up with my dad as a model. as a minister in the mennonite church, he'd write "shut up" to himself at the top of his paper during meetings.

i need this reminder. big time.

RebbeccaJ said...

well said, I even think I prescribed this to myself once on a self evaluation as a goal in the classroom :)

Father of Four said...

Good word Tom....all to often we as adults cannot slow down enough to just be. Now that I have three tweens, and an 8 week old....I long for the days of just being. Sometimes that happens and sometimes I feel more like a police officer than a parent. :) Thank you for the important reminder of just being.

Barbara said...

What a great reminder! Be quiet and listen. There is so much to learn from children, the very young and the not so young. I think you are right when you speak of us adults not being able to let go of the worries, anticipation, planning etc. If we could only remember to just be with ourselves and with the children and let them show the way.

Peace!

Joie said...

I learn my lesson. Thanks Tom. I am also a preschool teacher and just started to love my job. I will be following your blog and I am sure will learn a lot from you and your experiences.

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