Wednesday, January 11, 2012


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

I've had these large pieces of non-slip material you put under rugs to hold them in place
for quite some time. I was saving it mostly because I had a lot of it, which is one of
my primary criteria for saving anything. I've had a vague idea of using it at the art table,
but figured, as I often do, to see if the kids had any better ideas of how to use it. 

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.

Our main idea on the first day was to play under it together, making a kind of tent into which
to crowd ourselves.

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.

Cooperating enough to fit all of our bodies under there isn't easy when 
you're two.

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 especially hard when one of those bodies is that of a grown man, taking
up far too much of the space, but we managed.

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

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.

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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Aunt Annie said...

I'm so stealing that last sentence. :)

Scott said...

Me, too, Annie! Thanks, Teacher Tom.

Susan Syddall said...

This is so true. It's too easy to be caught up in the activities and agendas of daily life. So much more happens when we re-focus and listen to children. Thanks for the reminder of what's really important!

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite post. So powerful. Thank you.

Felipe said...

True, only a teacher can understand the power of a one on one interaction where you allow the child to be himself

jackie@happyhooligans said...

Well said, Teacher Tom. You had me with your opening sentence. Occasionally over the years, I've wondered if I should venture back into the corporate world, or at the very least, just the world outside my front door, but every time I've given any thought to what career or job I might persue, I think "but that would feel like WORK". We are so fortunate that our "work" feels like the most natural thing in the world. Thank you once again for putting into words what so many of us feel. You're so good at that. :)

Kelly @ The Homeschool Co-op said...

Your last statement is beautiful, and perfect. Thanks for the whole article. It is truly lovely.

Lucille said...

I keep coming back to read this again and again. It describes "teaching" perfectly. Thank you for writing this. I'm sharing it with others.

Anonymous said...

So true. My new years resolution to to talk less listen more. I learn so much!