Friday, February 26, 2016

Exactly 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 have 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 is currently 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 where they had been removing strawberry plants (we have a newly discovered severe strawberry allergy in our 2's class) and transplanting kale in their place. A clutch of them were standing at the gate, wanting to come back in. "We need watering cans!"

"Okay," I said, "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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purplebeatty said...

Isn't it wonderful when that light bulb moment hits us. I am so glad I work with young children who allow me the opportunity to still learn and grow along side them. I am also glad to be able to let go of the control I sometimes feel I need to have over a situation and watch them as they take care of what they need to do. :)

Jenny said...

Tom, sometimes I felt as though my whole reason for being was going in and out of the shed and the storeroom to find the perfect "something" that I could place in the perfect "somewhere" for the children to discover and incorporate into their play. It is the teacher equivalent of being a conductor. Finger on the play pulse, mind whirring, gatherer of the ingredients for play.

Unknown said...

I spent much of my morning running upstairs to our storage room, where we keep all the supplies that we can't have readily available in our rooms and I was feeling guilty for not being THERE for the kiddos and thought my Director was probably wondering why I wasn't in my room and hadn't prepared for the day, when I stopped and took a BIG breath and reminded myself, once again, that this is what the children want (and child-directed IS what it's ALL about) and I MIGHT just have headed back to he storage room again, feeling inspired:)

laura oreamuno said...

Yes, I remember these happy momments of my 32 years "academic" carrer, as the best ones... The "Free Play Time".
Now, as a Granny at home is allways like that, very happy to say I am living my best unstructured years with my grandkids!!!

Scott said...

This made me smile, Teacher Tom. And will again the next time I'm headed to the supply room or digging in the drawer to find just what is needed now. Thanks.

Greg said...

For me these are the best of times as a teacher. This is when I know that the children are fulfilled by choosing their own work, thinking, experimenting and creating. Like you Tom I will spend a whole afternoon moving around collecting and distributing materials that are needed for the work to advance. Suddenly I will look up and many hours have passed and many new creations and human connections have been born.