Wednesday, July 4, 2012

But things come slow or not at all

So, yeah, I am running the #kinderchat summer blogging challenge again this year, and, as usual, I am among the last to post my own response. In the name of full disclosure, I started this draft weeks ago, and have been tug-of-warring with it ever since. But first, the question:

What did you learn this past (or, for our southern hemisphere friends, what ARE you learning this current) school year that you couldn't have learned any other year, from any other students or colleagues or administrators or parents? What lessons did this particular year, this particular setting, these particular children bring into your life?

Oh, Lord. THESE children...??? It has been a while since I had a group like this: a group who exhausted me, pushed me, needed me, questioned me, stretched me so much and so frequently. A group with whom I fell so utterly, completely, and hopelessly in love... In fact, I'm pretty sure the last group like this was not a class at all, but a group of teenagers on the side of a mountain high up in northeastern California. But that is another story, and will be told another time.

This group of kids questioned everything. EVERY. DAMN. THING. Why do we have to do this? Why do it this way? Why do we print letters starting at the top? Do I have to draw a bowl for my goldfish? Can I have a book at rest time? Can sit under the table to do my reading? Can I cut it out and THEN colour, or do I have to colour first? Why do I need to colour first? Why do we stand in a line? Why can't I sit on my knees if I can't see? Can I sit on a chair at circle? Why can't *I* choose my spot for lunch? And they didn't accept a simple "yes" or "no" or "because I said so." Why, Mme? Why not, Mme? I can do it that way at home, Mme, why not here? I was tired. Lord, was I tired. I am still tired. I may always be tired. But from that dark, bone-deep-tiredness has come some lightbulbs: moments of clarity that have changed me, my classroom, my teaching. 

So here: this is my list, far from exhaustive, of the things I learned this year, that only these children, these smart, funny, LOUD, quirky, demanding, stubborn, inquisitive, impatient, messy, sticky, and determined (did I mention LOUD?) children could have taught me.

    • Criss-cross-applesauce is overrated.
    • Walking in a perfectly straight line is rarely necessary.
    • Sitting in a chair to work is not a requirement. Kids can work standing up, or laying down, or crouched over, or squatting.
    • The traditional "Today is; Yesterday was; Tomorrow will be..." calendar routine is a waste of 30 minutes. Kindergartners don't conceptualize time that way.
    • I am not willing to expend energy to convince a child to complete anything in a workbook.
    • In most cases, following the steps of an activity in the exact order I demonstrate is unnecessary.
    • In many cases, my demonstration is unnecessary and may be detrimental.
    • Most activities that involve use of a photocopier have no place in my classroom.
    • If a lesson or activity is going to result in 18 perfectly identical completed projects, I probably have no interest in doing it. 
    • Many crafts, no matter how cute, are glorified worksheets.
    • Sitting perfectly still is not a reasonable expectation for anyone, never mind an active five-year-old.
    • Being perfectly silent is not a reasonable expectation for anyone, never mind an active five-year-old.
    • If the children are bored, I am boring.
    • If I am boring, I need to change something.
    • Bored, disengaged children are MY problem to fix.
    • The cure for boredom is engagement, not entertainment.
    • If I am going to ask children to do something, I better be able to explain why it matters.
    • If I am going to ask children to do something, I better BELIEVE why it matters.
    • There is no glory in winning a battle of wills with a five year old.
    • There may, however, be danger in LOSING a battle of wills with a five year old.
    • If I'm going to have a battle of wills with a five year old,  I better choose it carefully, and be prepared to win.
    • Even if it means spending my own lunch break supervising a child who is refusing to put away the train he hurled across the room.
    • No matter how many great transition songs I know, sometimes the best way to handle a difficult transition time is to eliminate it. (Ask me about the beauty of the snack centre.)
    • Respond as if you are assuming the best, even if you have solid grounds to assume the worst. Assuming, and responding as if,  a child has picked up a stray toy with the intention of putting it away creates an entirely different interaction than assuming she has picked it up to sneak it into her backpack.
    • There is always a back-story. The story rarely begins at "He hit me." The question "what happened before that?" is important. The story deserves to be heard.
    • If I want them to be calm, I need to be calm.
    • There is no shame in announcing to a room of kindergartners that "Mme needs a time-out."
    • I teach CHILDREN first. Before the program or the curriculum or the philosophy, my job is to TEACH. CHILDREN.
Important work happens, without a workbook, a photocopier, a chair or even a teacher demonstration.
It surprises me now, reading this list. These are all things that I thought I knew, or that it seems I should have known, long before these kids came along.  Many are things I thought I understood.

So maybe, what these kids taught this teacher is that we all, always, need teachers. It was an honour, a blessing, and a privilege, to be their student.


  1. Definitely needed to see this list! I'm bookmarking this for when I'm a bit stressed out this next school year. :)

    Miss A's Kindergarten

  2. Love the list too Amy. So true, so very true. I love that these kidlest of yorus questioned everything. That's what life should be all about. I'm also loving this blog challenge and I hope I can keep it up all summer long. Karen

  3. Wow! What an amazing and honest reflection. You're grand respect for children is written in every word of this post!

  4. Great post! I love your list. I too have noisy, active classes and I love it! Your students are very lucky.

  5. Ask me no more questions!! :D

    I love how you listed all of the questions! Definitely captures working in a roomful of Young Children, Amy! You've always managed to do that so expertly.

    Love the list too- among my fav is the "If I want them to be calm, I have to be calm" Right out of my playbook! :D (see: Cesar Millan- he is a GENIUS)

    I love this challenge and reading all of these posts! Thanks for being such a spark as well as an awesome friend.

  6. I love "The cure for boredom is engagement, not entertainment." I wish I could pipe that on a loud speaker through every classroom and every home. I should probably write it on a sticky note in my own home as a reminder too. Great article.

  7. Oh, you are so right and honest to say all these things! Thanks so much. I especially like the calendar time is wasted, yes, it is. And, sitting in a chair is not a requirement to work, yes! Carolyn

  8. I love your list. It's so true that criss-cross-applesauce is over and done with. The first time I heard that I didn't know what it meant, really, don't laugh! That's when I knew I shouldn't be using it:) And I totally agree with you don't have to sit on a chair to work. Let children standing up, or lay down, or squad! As long as they are working, it doesn't matter to me!

  9. Love this list! I am pinning it so that I can reread and remember the things I know but often forget. Great post!

  10. Great list! The realities and your flexibility seem like a good match!

  11. Terrific. I learned (or re-learned) some of these same things myself this year. I think the one that most resonated with me: "Bored, disengaged children are MY problem to fix." I had a similar revelation - Their behavior tells me that I need to make a change (not them).