Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Truth About Teaching



I wish we could tell the truth about teaching, that it's really the simplest, most natural thing in the world.


I wish our profession wasn't in a fight for its life against deep pocket foes with a political or economic agenda, because this simplicity is really its beauty and joy.

For days, we'd been anticipating the wind and rain. Forecasters were sure of it: an atmospheric river was going to hit us and we were going to "swim" in it. And they were right, especially about the wind part. We took our parachute outside which is one of our favorite ways to play together with the wind.

We've learned to protect ourselves with an armor of jargon like every other profession as a way to sell ourselves in this sell-or-be-sold world.

At first we just held it together, feeling the wind's power, feeling it lift our arms and tear at our grips. When the gusts were particularly strong, everyone let go of their handles, leaving just me to hold it up in the wind as they danced under it. When I let go, the parachute flew over the fence and out into the street.

But teaching is not every other profession. I'm not even sure it is a profession as much as a calling. Because when we strip all that "professionalism" away, we see that the core of teaching is to love the children: every one of us knows that. And when you love, you listen. That's what teachers do.

It's when we listen with our ears and eyes and hearts that we can access not only their genius, but our own.

Again, they wanted to do it again, but by now the fabric was saturated, so when I let it go, the parachute failed to gain the height it needed to clear the fence and instead captured a line up of unsuspecting children in its cold, damp embrace. They screamed and laughed and I shouted, "Parachute attack!"

Teaching greatness is not a rare thing, I don't think, but it's hard for others to see because it takes place in intimate moments when we're down on our knees, face to face with the children, ears, eyes, and heart wide open. And then to try to talk about it after the fact, to try to satisfy the demands to make learning "transparent," we wind up wraping the moments of genius in words that detail techniques and strategies that describe only the surface manifestation of what happened because to say, "We connected," sounds too hippy dippy and namby pamby.

Again and again and again we did it. And when the wind died down, we shook our fists at the sky and cursed it for not giving us more.

Teaching is not a complicated thing, but it does take practice, lots of it, every day with lots of different kids, and even after ten or twenty years there's still a new thing to learn every day, its profundity often lost in its simplicity.


When we play with children, we engage them as they engage with their passions and curiosities, and when we listen with our whole selves, we notice instantly when that moment comes around, and then it's just a simple matter of making a statement of fact, or asking just the right question, or sitting quietly in the knowledge that that is what this child needs right now. How much better that is than to assume they are all ready for this particular knowledge at this particular time delivered in this particular manner by virtue of being more or less the same age -- what Ken Robinson calls their "manufacture date" -- then bang heads against the wall in frustration that many of them just don't get it.


To be a "gifted" teacher is really just possessing the knowledge that children are people and then proceeding to treat them like people, loving them, and listening.



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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Teacher Tom I'm really enjoying your blog here in New Zealand. How do you feel about the term pre-schoolers? A wise woman recently pointed out to me that we don't refer to school aged children as pre-collegers or ourselves as pre-retirees and that resonated with me, the accepting of children in the here and now rather than in preparation for the next step. I would be interested to know your thoughts, thanks for your time :)

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . I see her point, but I'm not going to become an evangelist about it. One of the reasons I like the term "preschool" is that I think it causes adults to let up a little and not take everything so seriously the way the word "school" does. Of course, they should play, it's "just" preschool.

Anonymous said...

i loved this post both as a child who was educated in school and as a mother who homeschools three kids. many of your statements ring true, i think, no matter where the teaching happens: home or school. thank you for reminding us all that children are people who need our love, our listening, and to experience DAILY the genius of connection.

Barbara Rucci said...

just stumbled upon your blog via Facebook. i think it was The Artful Parent who posted this article. you are fantastic, i love everything you write and do. i am your newest fan ♡♡♡ xo Bar from artbarblog.com

Yohonna Hodgins said...

The pre is reverent as in pre-med.

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