Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Hearing Voices

As we approach the halfway point in the school year, the children in my 5's and 3-5's classes seem to be chattering all the time, building complex worlds together with their words. But it's not uncommon for me to have not yet heard the actual voices of some of our 2-year-olds. I don't think I'm talking about selective mutism, but rather a more common phenomenon that results from very young children who are still learning to trust their ability to communicate, still learning to trust the world beyond the walls of their home, still learning especially to trust Teacher Tom with their words, their thoughts, and their ideas.

This is not to say that I've not heard their voices at all. They, of course, speak with their mothers and fathers, which is one of the strengths of the cooperative model, because in a way, it removes the wall between home and school, or at least blurs it, allowing me peeks into the lives and personalities of very young children I might not otherwise get to see. Parents of these quieter, thoughtful children are often eager to help fill in those gaps ("She sings all the songs at home," "He talks about you all the time") but it's not the same as hearing from the children themselves, even if it is just overhearing them.

There's something about this time of year, right around Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day, almost halfway through the school year, all of us having fully reacclimatized after the interruption of the December holiday break, that brings out the words of children who have otherwise been fully and productively engaged with their hands and bodies.

Sometimes these small, brave people have something so important on their minds, something so pressing to convey to Teacher Tom that they'll have to summon up all their courage to speak directly to me, often after several prior approaches when the words simply will not come out, but the imperative to convey this idea or information is ultimately too strong to ignore.

I know that many of these kids have not yet seen a television, that for them I am the biggest celebrity in their lives and that it's not about what they say to me, but simply that we speak, that the fourth wall is broken. They toddle up to me, eyes wide, saying only my name, "Teacher Tom," and I say their name in response. That's enough for now.

Most often, however, it comes gradually, as a matter of course. Perhaps we're building something side-by-side on our new checkerboard rug and as naturally as all that, he'll turn to me with the stack of gears he's pressed together and say as calmly as you please, "Green, purple, yellow, blue, orange." It's as if we've been bantering back and forth all along. And perhaps we have: I just couldn't hear it.

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1 comment:

Kerry said...

A lovely article, Teacher Tom.