Monday, May 25, 2020

Throwing Myself Into It



I've been blogging here for over a decade now. If anyone wants to make a study of my growth as a teacher and writer (and I can't imagine why anyone would) the journey is all right here in the archives. I've only ever once deleted a post and that was because it was of a political nature and I realized after 24 hours that I disagreed with myself and didn't want to campaign for a bad idea. Of course, by those standards, there are dozens, if not hundreds of posts I ought to delete, especially from 2009 and 2010 when I was a less experienced preschool teacher. Looking back at those posts, I see shadows of the teacher I am today, but there was a great deal of ignorance there as well. I'm embarrassed by my hubris. I didn't understand young children, and therefore didn't always show them the respect they deserve. And as for the writing . . . Well, I'll let others be the judge, but there are some cringe-worthy moments.

I don't delete those posts (although I have published updated versions of some of them) because I want them to stand as a public record of my journey. They remind me that everyone is on a journey, their own individual journey. Those old posts are reminders to be patient with others who are, like me, finding their way. I can't hurry them along. All I can ever do is try my best to explain what I think I've discovered and hope others find it helpful.

I also value those old, awkward posts because they are a record of my having been bad and wrong. They are, for me, a living reminder of how the teacher I am today, the writer I am today, the man I am today is built upon a foundation of mistakes. And those old posts are likewise a caution that I continue to be wrong. I just don't have the perspective and experience to know it yet. The most important thing, however, is that I threw myself into blogging, a practice I've continued to this day. I do my best thinking and try to express it as clearly as I can, knowing that there will be typos, blind spots, and embarrassments.

One thing I got right at the very beginning, however, was my tag line: "Teaching and learning from preschoolers." The practice of "throwing myself" into things is one of the many things I've learned from young children.

I wrote last week about the how traditional schooling is based upon an obsession with "right" answers, usually at the expense of thinking. A corollary is that "wrong" answers, or mistakes, are to be avoided at all costs: that's the way one winds up failing, after all, the greatest of all school house sins. Whenever I find myself reluctant to throw myself into something, I always discover that it's this fear of failure that's stopping me, yet my whole life, as evidenced by this blog, is a testament to the power of being bad and wrong. The more I've studied young children at play, the more I see that right and wrong are far less important than the habit of throwing oneself into things. If you're going to be Batman, then be Batman. If you're going to explore the possibilities of paint, then don't stop until you've painted your arms up to the elbow, your forehead, and your hair. If you're going to play with a friend, then dive fully into friendship, which means throwing yourself into ugliness of conflict and bickering, as well as the joy of connection.

Of course, not all young children make a habit of throwing themselves into things. Some are inclined to hang back, to be observers before they act. I've learned from these children that it's important to take your time, to make certain that what you're doing is what you really want to do, a risk you want to take, the kind of fun you want to have. But what I've found is that most of the time these children might take longer to commit themselves, but once they have, they then throw themselves into it, giving it their all, which is the greatest hedge against failure, even if mistakes are inevitable.

I have few regrets, but those I have are all about those times when I allowed my fear of being wrong, of mistakes, of failure, to prevent me from throwing myself into it. It's almost impossible to throw yourself into anything under those conditions. I suppose I'm thinking about this right now because we've all had our lives turned upside down, and now it feels like the whole world is standing back, leaving a kind of vacuum into which almost anything could be sucked. We have a worldwide moment in which no one really knows what to do which makes it a time both of great opportunity and great peril. We can't wait for leaders to tell us what to do. I worry about much of what I hear these "leaders" proposing, especially when it comes to young children.

I've spent the last couple weeks reaching out to early childhood practitioners and thought leaders from around the world, asking questions, listening, and bickering. It's clear that we are currently in a worldwide teachable moment. I think we're ready to come together to advocate for a better future for children, not merely as a transition back to the old normal, but rather as the beginning of a true transformation. I think we're ready to step into the vacuum and make our voices heard. There is always more that is unknown than known when we look into the future and there are many failures ahead, but I'm ready now, we're ready now, I think, to throw ourselves into it. I know this call to action is vague, and I intend it as a kind of tease. But more to the point, writing this post is an exercise in summoning my own courage because I'm throwing myself into it. And I'm not alone. Stay tuned.

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My new book, Teacher Tom's Second Bookwill be back from the printers any moment now! I'm incredibly proud of it. And if you missed it, you can also pick up a copy of Teacher Tom's First Book as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below.


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