Friday, April 08, 2016

That's What Motivates Me

There's a song I sing when it's time to gather around for circle time, our community meetings. It's something I made up, I think, although it probably grew from a kernel planted by one of my mentors. It always starts off the same way, "Come on over to the checker board rug, come on over to the checker board rug, come on over to the checker board rug, and have a seat on the floor . . ." After that, it can pretty much go off on any number of tangents, each one sillier than the last, usually inspired by something one of the kids has done or said. It's just a way to goof around until everyone is settled in. And then, since I typically don't have anything specific planned, we usually just goof around together some more. In a nutshell, that's the Teacher Tom method.

Honestly, I was never particularly motivated to become a teacher. There were a couple of my high school teachers to whom I looked up, but that had more to do with my perception of their lifestyle as teachers -- being cool role models, coaching sports teams after school, having pretty wives -- than anything to do with helping kids' brains grow bigger. Even when I finally became a father, I had little interest in teaching our baby anything: I just wanted to goof around with her.

People assume I'm interested in pedagogy and curricula and brain development, and I am, I suppose. I've done just enough reading, and taken just enough classes, and attended just enough workshops, to have a working knowledge of most of what's out there, but everything I know about teaching, really, I've acquired more by osmosis than any sort of concentrated study, and frankly, I rarely think about any of it anyway. Likewise, I'm not all that interested in knowing about spectrums or disorders or syndromes or any other kind of diagnosis. I'm not ignorant of them, of course, and I recognize that there is value in this kind of knowledge, but it generally only reveals such a tiny piece of what makes a child who he or she is that it borders on the irrelevant, at least when it comes to the way I do "teaching."

And speaking of irrelevant, I know and care even less about much of the stuff my public school colleagues talk about, like "Common Core" or grading papers or assigning grades or achieving all those various certifications and qualifications and whatnot. I mean, I've looked into some of it, and found it has so little in common with what I do on a day-to-day basis that it hardly looks at all to me like what I call "teaching." If it wasn't threatening to take over the whole of what we call "education" in America, I would gladly ignore it entirely.

As I've had the opportunity to travel around the world presenting and facilitating education workshops, people express enthusiasm for learning more about my approach, methodology, and pedagogy. And that's what I talk about, although I'll never be able to offer a tidy list of "10 Tips" or "12 Steps To Success." I mostly talk about how I goof off with kids.

You see, I came into teaching through a back door, not even really knowing where I was, to be honest, holding my own daughter's hand. We found a bunch of kids there and started playing with them. Everyone called it "school," so we did too. I was never particularly motivated to become a teacher, but when I saw what my mentors Sue Anderson and Chris David did in their little cooperative classrooms, I was motivated to do that.

We spent our time together at this kind of school mostly just goofing around, although by virtue of being adults we occasionally had to work with children to help them be safe, to treat one another fairly, to express our emotions in healthy, productive ways. But that wasn't our "curriculum," heavens no, all of that adult stuff was just by way of getting back to the core of why we were together: to have an interesting time goofing around.

I'm still not particularly motivated to be a teacher, but I do enjoy being Teacher Tom. I love nothing more than dropping to my knees and playing with the children, talking with them, listening to them, being their friend. My main job, as I do it, is just to find a way to get each kid on my bandwagon, which can only be done by forging a relationship based upon a two-way street of listening, acceptance, and love -- and a sacred agreement that no one is the "boss" of anyone else. The rest is just goofing off together. 

I may not be motivated to be a teacher, but I am motivated by the unique joys and challenges of creating a relationship with each child. It's endlessly amazing to me that the more I've done this, coming to a place called school each day to goof around with kids, that there is still so much more to learn, that there is always a deeper depth and a higher height and a sillier way to sing that old song.

Finding those new places is what motivates me; finding them with the kids, going there together, then goofing off. That's what motivates me.

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Noelle said...

Yes, this is what true holistic teaching is - meeting a child where he or she is at, seeing them, knowing them, and helping them grow.

KBeck said...

Your right - headed posts give me hope; there's still at least one person doing it 'right. '