What kids need

Sometimes I wonder how many books have written about education. They are written for parents, teachers, administrators, and of course, children. By no means do I mean to discount the value of these books to society and the audiences for which they are intended. But when I think of the thousands of children and young adults I have faced in the past almost twenty years, I come to only one reality about what is needed in the classroom. Books have nothing to do with it.

Children of all ages want us to listen to them and pay attention to what they’re saying. For the course of a day, they are one of a row, a group, a team, or a community of some sort. It becomes much too easy and expedient to lose identity and more significantly, importance.

Our children always have something to say. To them, it is the most critical part of now. Conversation may be about home, family, church, neighborhood, or any other community. They want us to know about their siblings. Very often, they want us to know about their pets. Sometimes, they want to talk about travel, either in the past or the future. And most of all, they want to share their feelings about anything and everything.

The best way to win a child’s attention is to pay attention. Create a space where you and he or she can share some time in earnest communication. Be mindful of listening to every word, phrase, and sentence.

Because the opinions of children rarely change the world or any immediate situation, we tend to postpone them or in some ways, indicate that what they are saying is of little value. We will say, “I know you want to talk to me, but I have to make dinner.” Or we can say, “Let’s talk about this after I do the gardening.” Maybe it’s a better idea to postpone the dinner or gardening.

While I am not suggesting that you change your priorities, I am saying that focusing on what children have to say will mean more to them than any toy or game. We only get one opportunity to be parents, grandparents, or educators to our kids. The best way to let them know how important they are is to take the time to hear what they have to say. Shalom.

Kinder

Throughout my teaching career of almost twenty years off and on, I have encountered numerous substitute and other teachers who want no part of kindergarten. Some prefer middle or high school, saying that they are able to have more intelligent conversations with older kids. Others have indicated that the kindergarten and first graders are too out of control and unpredictable.

Those who know me know that kindergarten is my favorite level to teach but I have only recently spent some time thinking about why that is the case. I don’t know what percent of our personalities are formed by the time we reach middle and high school. But what I do know is that anything that we can impart as soon as we have the opportunity has to be ideal.

Kindergarteners are impetuous, energetic, affectionate, and absolutely unfiltered. Whatever is going on in their brains comes out of their mouths. They are never devious, manipulative, or complex. It’s very common for me to hear very personal information about mothers, fathers, grandparents, sibling, neighbors, or anyone else. They will ask me how old I am, how much money I make, if I have any kids and how old they are, and if I am a real teacher.

The answers are ultimately unimportant because within minutes of questions asked and answered, they are on the way to new adventures. My favorite characteristic of kindergarteners are that they get excited about anything and everything. My bag of Jolly Ranchers will evoke a combination of awe and enthusiasm. If I produce my collection of 3-D stickers, their appreciation is obvious and unbridled.

We have so many years of witnessing kids who are bored, apathetic, lazy, or uninspired. At the same time, we have more years of disinterested or absent parents, outside influences, and peer pressure during the older grades. In other words, I’m going to continue enjoying my little ones. They are always funny and cute, inspiring me to show them my sense of humor and my ability to understand them. What could be better than that? Shalom.

Givens

With as much time as I spend in the classroom, I expect that I would hear the word “given” as often as I remember hearing it while growing up. Maybe the word is out of circulation. It’s also possible that I used it in those grades that were advanced from those I teach.

The lesson is that the concept of a “given” is entirely unknown to elementary school students and maybe their parents. It used to be a given that you would go to school each day in clean clothes, with hair combed, shoes tied, and homework completed. No matter what grade or age, those were all givens to me.

It appears that these aren’t givens any more. Yes, I realize that we are still in the midst of a pandemic where many have lost their jobs and are living on meager amounts of money. But it’s commonplace for me to experience kids with dirty hair that is entirely messy. Either I tie a student’s shoes or observe them untied, every day. You might be tempted to say, “Oh, that’s just kids,” but I’m talking about a frequent lack of attention to basic givens. And based on the brand names of the clothing they wear and the cars I see in the parking lots, these are most likely not poor families.

This makes more sense when you compare this type of preparation (or non-preparation) to a little boy I’ll call Caleb. From the first time I saw him, he was perfectly groomed and dressed, with an attitude to match. Each time he needed my input or assistance, he would proudly approach and show what he had done. His smile burned through his face mask and his eyes were brilliant from the knowledge that he was treasured. If I never teach another child, Caleb will always be the one who made all of my teaching years worthwhile. Apparently, his parents were familiar with what was important to the school experience.

Ten feet away were two students who consistently made enough noise to disturb the rest of the class. One of them had to tap his marker repeatedly and sing to himself until I had to ask him to stop. Being quiet and inobtrusive was a given in my life, along with not pushing or shoving.

One of these days, I’m going to ask my students if they know a definition of given that doesn’t relate to the word give. They may know about “understood” or “assumed.” Until then, I’ll wonder if given pertains to higher math and philosophy or it’s just gotten to be unfashionable. Shalom.