Monday, May 13, 2019

It's Not the Teaching

My favorite thing about teaching is not teaching. I'm sure there are teachers who love that part of it - who live for the moment that a lightbulb goes on in a student's mind and who are fascinated by pedagogy -- who stay up thinking about different ways of explaining a math problem or a grammatical concept.

I don't mind those things, and I like some of them. And, of course, it is wonderful to see that light bulb go on. But that isn't why I personally teach.

For me, the reason to teach is the whole child.

I love dealing with their brains. Their brains are so different at different ages and stages of development! Sometimes students are absolutely infuriating but it's totally developmentally appropriate. Sometimes you can almost literally see the neural pathways forming, like when third graders start questioning why Native Americans are called Indians, and I want to cheer them on: "Yes! Think things through! Taken nothing for granted!"Sometimes they are so impulsive that I wanted to spend the entire day teaching them self-control, and throw out the math and spelling lessons. Kids -- of any age -- have FASCINATING brains.

But I also love being trusted with their emotions. There is no higher honor for me than a child trusting me with their difficult emotions. And there are so many of them! I was working with a 6th grade tutoring student recently and, in a one-hour session, I saw him cycle through sadness, crying, embarrassment over the crying, worry, relief, happiness, anger, and more. Because that's how it is when you're in sixth grade. Sometimes they ask me for advice or say they want to talk, and sometimes they just start to act out or cry and I have to figure out what happened and if I can help.

Sometimes I'm involved in the emotional trauma. These are two apology notes I received from sisters who had noticed my bowl of quarters (laundry money) and helped themselves to some. I noticed some money missing, talked to a few parents, and it turned out that several parents had noticed their kids coming home with extra quarters. It was too much temptation for impulsive kids. These two were really afraid to apologize because they thought I would hate them. They wrote apology letters and paid me back and we talked about times that we had all done things we knew were wrong because the temptation was so strong. They thanked me for not being angry and letting them apology and they gave me extra-strong hugs that day. Their mom thanked me later for helping them with valuable life lessons and being a good teacher and friend to them, which made my heart happy.

Because it's so important to get to know kid as whole people and not just brains or academic machines, I look for all sorts of connections. My dog, Ruby, is one perfect example. I now tutor mostly out of my home, and the students adore her. We recently had a birthday celebration for her ninth birthday (what I'm going to do when this dog leaves us, I do not know, because she has almost 30 best friends now), and she got presents, hugs, a doggie cake, and many many notes like the one up above.

Another way to connect with kids, and one that I can do easily working out of my home, is to feed them. Kids come to me after school or in the early evening and I always offer them water and often a snack. Some of them are comfortable enough with me that they'll ask for a snack and I tell them I'll share if I have something but I won't always, and they are comfortable with that. But I always try to rustle something up, even if it's just sharing a cut-up apple, because there is something very special about sharing food with people.

It's an honor to work with kids, and it is even more of an honor to be trusted and loved, and yes, even taken for granted by them.

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