Tuesday, April 20, 2010


No matter how much I've learned from the Gottmans, Paleys, Bozs, Kohns, and Gevers out there, and it's a lot, there will never be a greater influence on me as a teacher than Mister Rogers.

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.

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Launa Hall said...

Tom, where is this quote from? I need to read more from Mister Rogers.

Thanks for this. I get overwhelmed in grad school sometimes with all the STUFF there is to master.

But the core is to really listen to and be with the child. If I have that in place, I'll be on the right track.

Scott said...

I remind myself--on those days when none of the "teaching" seems to be taking hold--that being there, listening to the kids, building a relationship really is the most important part. Thanks for a lesson from one of the best mentors.

Deborah Stewart said...

It is so true - sometimes we make teaching young children so grand that we miss the simple everyday connections to learning that can take place. After reading this post, I feel so privileged to be connected, even if it is just a small way, to someone so profound as Mr. Rogers. I will read more about his life and his writings.

How amazing it is to reflect on what we bring to a given situation. As adults, are we there to learn, grow,and receive or do we already have preconceived ideas that leave us closed off and unteachable?

Kat said...

You are right, Mr. Rogers is a wonderful model. Gentle, quiet, familiar, and present in each moment. I also love that he never talked down to children - he got on their level and carefully explained the world. Thanks for the nice post and reminder to go back and read his books.

Unknown said...

Wow~someone who admires Fred Rogers as much as I do! (Not many people realize he went to seminary.) He's my hero and one of the best role models a pre-k teacher could have! :)

Play for Life said...

Um ... at the risk of sounding ignorant Tom, Launa, Scott, Deborah, Kat and Ayn ... WHO is Mr. Rogers?
Donna :) :)

Teacher Tom said...

@Donna . . . This is who Mister Rogers is to me: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/wont-you-be-my-neighbor.html

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness. That quote is amazing. Can I share it on my blog? LOVE it.

Play for Life said...

Thanks Tom. I looked at your link on Mister Rogers and then I googled him. I think it's sweet you remember him so fondly and are still influenced by him today ... you old softy you!
Donna :) :)