Wednesday, February 01, 2017

What A Teacher Ought To Be Doing




"Teacher Tom, I need a box."

"What kind of box?"

"This is my firing pad and I need a base for my firing pad." We had been dismantling machines all week, then repurposing the parts for our own creations using glue guns. His "firing pad" employed the shell of a DVD player upon which he'd mounted bits from a vacuum cleaner along with a couple wine corks he had found on the ground.

I thought I might have a box that would work for his purposes in the storage room and hustled inside for it.

When I returned, before I'd even handed over the box, I was waylaid by a group of girls who needed duct tape.

"What do you need duct tape for?"

There was a crack in the side of a plastic bucket they were using. When I offered help them find a bucket that wasn't cracked, they insisted that it had to be this one because it "matched." They all wanted to be using the same red buckets. After delivering the box to the workbench, I went back inside for duct tape.

Upon my return, another boy asked me for another box to use as a base for his firing pad. "But a smaller one."

This is how my day had gone, frankly. It seemed as if I'd been sent into that damned store room dozens of times already, fetching everything from fabric and string to drinking straws and "sparkle sparkles," all at the behest of kids. I was feeling a bit irritated, not at the children, of course, and not really even at myself, but rather at my "third teacher," and her inability to make all those supplies more readily accessible. I love her, but she's far from perfect.

Our supply of cardboard boxes was at an ebb, so this mission required some rummaging around. As I searched, I ground my teeth at the fact that this was what I was doing with my day rather than, you know, actually teaching. In my internal grumbling, I asked myself why the kids couldn't just stick with using the huge supply of materials I'd already provided and that's when it hit me: I was, in fact, doing exactly what a teacher ought to be doing in a truly child-lead environment. They were out there, fully engaged in their self-directed projects, and when they came across an idea or obstacle I'd not anticipated (and in all honesty, most are of that variety), they were using their knowledge of the storage room supplies to ask me, the teacher, the one with the keys, the one tall enough to reach the top shelves, to help them.

After retrieving an acceptable box, one I'd made available by moving its contents to a different container, I heard a couple kids chanting, "We need more water, we need more water, we need more water," the way they do when the cistern over which our cast iron pump sits is dry. An adult needs to go outside the playground gate to turn on the hose that refills it, so I headed that way, not plodding as much as I sometimes do, understanding in this moment that this is what I get paid to do at our play-based school: supporting the kids as they pursue their self-directed projects.

A group of children had earlier gone around to the greenhouse to plant a few seeds in hope of some early crops. A clutch of them were standing at the gate, wanting to come back in. "We need watering cans!"

"Okay," I said as I let them in, "but first I have to refill the cistern."

"Don't worry, Teacher Tom, we'll get them ourselves. We know where they are," and off they race, down the hill, fully engaged in their project, and all they had needed me for this time was opening the gate.


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