Tag Archives: kids

From my side of the desk…

I’m always hesitant to call myself a teacher… for a lot of reasons, I suppose. One is that I do spend a lot of time at the local elementary school as a volunteer and I do not want any role confusion. (I had a young fellow at school ask me if he could something the other day. I replied that he needed to ask his teacher. His reply secretly made my day. “But you teach me stuff–like how to read!” Okay, but you still need to ask your official teacher.)

I do teach. I guess  I can consider myself officially a teacher of adults. And the role of the teacher and student is an interesting one… I’m often surprised–or at least disappointed– that a number of my adult students expect it to be somewhat adversarial. One of my colleagues reported a student announcing that since she was “the customer” and paying for the course she “would do whatever she wanted in class.” Fortunately, my colleague had the presence of mind to reply, “Yes, you are the customer and you can do whatever you like. I am the instructor and can do whatever I like–including giving you a failing grade for the course.”

I’m convinced that we’ve got this wrong in a very fundamental way. I think it stems from a too-often adversarial relationship between parents and teachers. It is not my intent to contribute to the hostility by defending teachers–certainly we are not a perfect profession at any age or grade level. I also do not want to over-simplify the topic.

But I do want to suggest that we get rid of the desk. I don’t want to sit behind it and I don’t want my students or their parents sitting in front of it. (Okay, I’ve never had an adult learner’s parent intercede on the students’ behalf, but I have been contacted by spouses.)

Let’s sit next to each other and talk about what it is that we are trying to achieve. Your homework assignment is to read this article before we meet:

“What teachers want to tell parents.”

The assignment applies even if you aren’t a parent of school-aged children, because our class discussion will be about how we view education and development… and how easy it is to forget what we’re trying to accomplish with it.

“I’m sorry I’m not better at this…”

During a recent visit to a third grade art class a budding young artist finished her assigned work before the class was over. Since project work is often finished at different paces, students who complete their assignment with the teacher’s approval are then allowed to “play” individually with other projects of their chosing. This young lady requested that I sit across from her “So I can draw a picture of you.”

This process involved a number of different colored crayons and certainly included some artistic license. I am wearing glasses in the result, but my clothing was adapted to include a turtleneck shirt. “I’m not really very good at drawing necks,” was the explanation. I chuckled at the thought of the mall artists who will do sketches will you wait. They usually work in silence with a small audience behind them and you get to watch the audience’s reactions as the image forms.

In this cause the artist’s reactions were apparent because she kept a running commentary going. Much of it was actually a series of apologies over the parts she had trouble with or the goofs she made.  “I’m sorry but I can’t draw hands very good.” (My hands are raised as if I’m being held up, but I think I’m actually supposed to be waving.) I would have to say that I look much more muscular than I realized and have very square shoulders. Of course I countered her continued self-deprecation with gentle compliments and made sure she knew I was approving of her efforts. She was, after all, being quite professional–studying me with a trained eye, then attempting to record what she saw with blunted crayons.

I admired her courage. 

But I also felt a deep sadness because she keep repeating her sense that her work wasn’t good. Or at least not good enough. I suppose that makes her an achiever, but at what point will she give up and decide she isn’t an artist? I know I learned long ago that I’m not “artistic.” I’m sure I would not be able to draw a very good picture of her–at least that’s true  if “good” means “accurate.”

As a student of education and learning, I long ago became an opponent of the popular “self esteem” movement that suggests education is all about making kids feel good about themselves. It’s not that I’m against kids developing self-worth. But as my experience with this artist demonstrates, when we try to hand it to them, we actually are taking it away. They want to earn it.

I don’t think we should deprive them of that opportunity. Somewhere between giving all positive messages and constant criticism there’s a balance. That it’s hard to find doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try–any more than the fact that my little friend “can’t draw hands” means she shouldn’t try. We can learn a lot from her. If I’d tried to convince her she’d drawn great hands, she’d have known I was not being honest.

Can we agree with her that my hands “don’t look right” without making her feel like she’s a failure?

Perhaps more to the point, can we face our own errors without considering ourselves a failure? I usually find one student in my adult classes that I refer to affectionately as “my little over-achiever.” Math anxiety and test anxiety have their roots in the fact that we are not taught how to fail. Somewhere along the way we forget there’s process.

Let’s not be afraid to value process and effort. They are as much a part of our self-worth as are our accomplishments.

One of the things I’ve had to learn about working with kids is that it’s best not to read too much into what they say and do. It’s tempting, but I really think she just wanted to draw me–that was her goal and the desired result. She gave the drawing to me when it was finished. I approved it, but I’m not even sure my approval was important to her.

But that drawing is very important to me. And it’s hanging where I have to pass it every day because I want to be reminded of these many things. I’m not ready to start drawing portraits, but if she can try things, so can I. Getting results is great, but enjoying the process is pretty awesome too.

Oh, I also kinda like that the final touch to her masterpiece is the angel she drew sitting on my shoulder.

When I Was Their Age…

I was going to start this by wondering if you could stand another post about dictionaries… and then I realized, it really isn’t! The background is that I recently wrote an article for The Dictionary Project Newsletter and have had several nice comments on it. It was some of the comments that made me realize I didn’t just write about dictionaries–I wrote about the relationship between schools, volunteers, teachers, students, parents–that wonderful conglomeration of people who make up the community.

And in a strange irony, I had a short but wonderful conversation today with a third grader who recognized how a quilt is like a community… you find lots of different things and put them all together to form a pattern that is both many things and one thing.  It also ends up being quite colorful and pleasing to the eye.

So in a larger sense, I wrote about communities and expectations and communication and working together. To see if you agree, check out “When I Was There Their Age…”


Okay… now how bad is that? They’re are differences between there, their and they’re! And I really do know what they are!  Technology got me on this one… because I made the mistake, saw the mistake… but the automatic send happened before I could edit out the mistake! So there’s another advantage of subscribing to this… the odds of seeing my mistakes are higher! (For those who didn’t get the emailed version, I made the mistake in the title too.)

Grab Some Tissues…

And watch this video. Please.

http://www.flickspire.com/m/HPP/MakeADifference

All the way to the end. I’m not going to do a spoiler, but I will tell you that part-way through I found myself thinking how hard I wished people could realize that it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference in a child’s life. But in the end, that wasn’t the point.

Problem-solving With Kids

Many regular readers know that I spend quite a bit of time with the kids at school… mostly as a “bookworm” meaning second and third graders get turns reading their favorite books to me. We have a lot of fun and I like to think it encourages a love of reading.  I know I enjoy their friendship and they teach me a lot.

During a recent visit a gaggle of third grade girls cornered me to announce “We have a bullying problem.” Now unless you live under a rock you know that bullying is something taken very seriously at school–volunteers are obligated to report incidents to teachers. I somewhat surprised myself when I responded by asking them, “What have you done about it?”

I was not that surprised when they gave me a fair amount of detail regarding the perpetrator, who’d they’d reported it to, and what the plan was for dealing with it. I am convinced that we often fail as adults by underestimating kids. The situation was well in hand; they just wanted me to know.

My conversation with them reminded me of an event some years ago. I was at my then chiropractor’s office and discovered that Amanda had come to work with her mom due to an accident at school the previous day. She and Tyler, another first grader, collided while playing kick ball.

She was busy managing multiple priorities: being a kid, greeting and visiting patients, entertaining herself, saying “out of the way,” creating art, practicing writing her name, and negotiating more time off rom school with her mom. I considered myself fortunate that she found time in her busy schedule to play with me. Actually, that’s not quite right. She let me play with her.

I found it difficult to “write my name” using those perfectly shaped first grade  letters. But every time I “goofed up” Amanda assured me I was doing fine. She also thought I could draw a pretty good cat.

We of course discussed her accident. When I asked her how she was going to avoid getting hurt again she didn’t hesitate with her answer. She would make sure her and Tyler were on the same team so they were always running in the same direction.

I left clutching the drawing Amanda did for me. (She drew pretty good flowers.) It still hangs in my office as a reminder of the fun we had and the fact that sometimes kids are great problem solvers. Adults are the ones who make things difficult.

 


By my estimation, Amanda is now in her early twenties. I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with her and her Mom… but I hope she’s still drawing flowers!