Friday, April 15, 2011


Yesterday was our 3-5 class' final day before Spring break, and as such was a sparsely attended affair as many of our families have already set out on their visits and adventures. 

Coming off of yesterday's "clunky" experience, this one felt a bit off as well, but I didn't have to mentally and emotionally process it to know why. We're simply not ourselves when we're not all together. We can sustain who we are with a kid or two missing, which is typical on any given day, what with illness being one of the main reasons we come together in the first place. But with nearly half of us gone like yesterday, we just aren't ourselves, together.

Our small classroom suddenly feels spacious. We're not bumping off of one another the way we usually do, being forced by the limits of physical space to learn about being with one another when there's no place to hide out and pursue solitary activities. Our parent-teachers comment on the quiet, as if it's a good thing. I like a raucous classroom, one where we need to put our heads together to be understood, a place where children aren't always being shushed and warned about having to use their indoor voices. A place where the limits on sound come from the kids themselves, who learn to indicate their discomfort with the loud noise by employing the universal signal for "too loud": covering their ears. Then we honor that by taking it down a notch.

We're more who we are as individuals, of course, on days like this, but that's who we are all that time we're not in school. Woodland Park is a place to learn to be connected with the world beyond mom and dad and siblings and best friends. It's about learning about being a part of a bigger Us. We're only together for a few hours a week, after all. Now is the time for Us. When we're all here, we must always be aware of the friend at our elbow, the body beside us, the person at the next easel who has desires, needs, and feelings to consider as well. It can't just be all about me. It must always be about Us.

That's why I even discourage our parent-teachers from reading books to the kids, which I'm almost ashamed to admit beyond our four walls. Books are powerful things with the ability to suck children into their own little worlds, into a place where the rest of us cannot penetrate. If you're going to read to the kids, I tell them, make sure you have a purpose, like helping to calm an upset or spark imaginative play. Otherwise it becomes a cluster of kids in a corner, staring at the pictures, minimally engaging with Us.

We're not for everyone, I suppose. I know that there are wonderful pedagogical approaches that take a different point of view, that favor expansive space and soft voices and circle times where everyone actually sits in a circle, or in designated places, rather than scattered around the floor, hip-to-hip, on laps, or in our own "self space," as our feelings about Us moves us: arranging ourselves into a unique Us every time we sit together to talk about the things we have in common, like compliments or rules or the butterfly pupae inside those chrysalid we're keeping our eyes on. 

Study after study shows that "success" in life, as measured by the important things like having good relationships, being financially secure, and feeling satisfied with our lives, has little to do with what we know. Success correlates much more with sociability, working well with others, and internal motivation, all things that are best learned as part of a bigger Us.

In our few hours together each week, that's what we do. I can't wait until our individual parts come back from their travels to share with us what they've learned and make it a part of the bigger Us.

Because at the end of the day, the planet is small and crowded, and we're all in this together.

Bookmark and Share


Unknown said...

I hope you have a fab Spring break and i look forward to the stories to follow.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I wish That I would have gone to a preschool like yours. Instead we were taught not to interact with each other at all except for the hour a day we had for recess. Thats probably the main reason why I developed social anxiety, o well. keep up the good work :).

Lucille said...

I've recently started reading your blog with great interest. I'm on my 23rd year of teaching, all in kindergarten and have experienced the changes first hand. I think about your class as I start planning for my students to move on to first grade and I'm wondering how your students transition? What kind of feedback do you get from their kindergarten teachers?

Teacher Tom said...

@Lucille . . . By all accounts the kids do great. Parents tell me they are happy about our big, loud, robust class because it prepares the kids to be comfortable in those big, loud public school classrooms.

The parents themselves, however, are often very frustrated. And that makes me happy because nothing will change without parents taking the lead.

EEeaglesEducator said...

Your photos, ideas and approach to education has reminded me of the importance of play in the primary grades. I teach Kindergarten and so often feel as though we are being rushed through the school day with work, rather than allowing the children to interact and explore- opportunities and experiences they need to teach themselves about who they are and what is around them. You have very inspiring messages!