The Everyday Chronicles of a Middle and High School Teacher
Nithya Girish – Coordinator Humanities Department
Head Start Educational Academy
“We carry within us, the wonder we seek around us.”
– Author unknown
The simplicity and beauty of these lines never ceases to inspire us as teachers. Sometimes, it is exactly what we need to hear at that particular moment in life when we begin to question and rack our brains about whether the career path we have chosen has enough “wonders” to keep us going! The answer, most definitely, is YES! Children are wondrous, and our children at Head Start are extraordinary!
The Teenage Years…
There are some general ideas about teenagers––that they are impulsive, confused, and self-centred beings. Let’s face it, these are not easy years. Children experience rapid growth spurts, increased need for sleep, hormonal changes, and often lack the ability to concentrate on intellectual work for long periods of time.
As teachers, we constantly experience high-intensity emotions as well––we pick and choose our battles, plan and tailor-make lessons, acquire materials and design unit plans, conduct assessments, and continue to be haunted by the things we know we could have done but did not.
Somewhere along the way, however, we realise that our children manage to meet us halfway more often than not. They surprise us with their creativity, kindness, strength of character, ability to overcome adversity, and simply do good in the world. In their own special way, they make us realise that the point of learning, of coming to school, is finding commonalities without blurring our own special profiles.
In our journey together, there are a few things we have learnt on the way...
Seize a teachable moment when it arrives. Head Start’s philosophy encourages constant dialogue and conversation between the learner and the educator. This gives us “teachable moments” almost every day. And when these teachable moments emerge (unannounced as always), we greet them with a smile and drop everything to make them grow and blossom. Be it through Circle Time or our class discussions, we try to grab every opportunity to make a child think and be conscious. The truth of the matter is this: there is so much goodness waiting inside each child’s soul. Our job as educators and as teachers is to nurture it, to bring it out and let it shine.
Children are unpredictable, and we love it! Irrespective of what or how many times you throw something out there, you are always unsure of your 'returns'. You will never truly know what you're going to get back, what is going to strike a chord, what is going to make them think a little deeper, a little bigger.
A young child often develops the ability to voice sentiments that we as adults grapple with. A fifth grader once told his teacher, “If you want me to do MY best, you have to let me take MY time.” Such a simple and powerful way of summing up what it really means to develop your individual learning style.
Children won’t learn what you don’t, consciously or unconsciously, teach them. More importantly, children can’t BE what they don’t SEE. Kindness, empathy, and compassion rarely make it to any curriculum’s goals around the world. This makes it even more essential to serve children tiny portions of kindness every day. May be a tiny bit of kindness will make them hungry for greater acts of goodwill in the future.
Every child has a story. The challenge with some children is to be patient enough to listen. A very wise person once said that the most unhappy children will ask for help in the most unpleasant ways. While it is one of the most challenging things to do, separating the child from the behaviour is the only way to encourage this child. Sometimes this “encouragement” is the wisdom of a grandparent's folktale, a lesson learnt on the sports field, or even the experience of serving lunch in school. The point is that everyone’s got a story. The challenge with some children is to be patient enough to listen.
Once, while discussing inspirational quotes in class, a teacher happened to share a popular one, which was, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind” (Dr Wayne Dyer). After a few minutes of passionate discussion, a child said, "Imagine if countries around the world accepted this thought as part of their foreign policy or more like a mandate, wouldn’t there be fewer conflicts in the world?" It is revelations like these that make us realise that good teaching is usually about “shining the light”. We surely teach children about things they don’t know, about mathematical theorems, the laws of physics, and the reigns of kings; but when it comes to values that really matter in life, we often just try to highlight what is already there.
One of the best things about the Middle School Years at Head Start is the freedom given to facilitators to design their curriculums. Teachers need the freedom to teach––freedom they can’t have if they’re only teaching students to pass a test. It is quite possible that our students don’t find anything about compassion and empathy in the textbooks prescribed by a board, but the hope is that their years at Head Start instil a sense of wisdom, justice, courage, and understanding that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
As teachers, there are times we are jaded and our energy is depleted; and at such times, we often take a walk through the corridors of our school and watch as our children amble around us, hear their voices as they squabble, and know that this is home. We are in the space of teaching because the future holds challenges, and the best way to face them is to contribute with solutions. And in this space, we all have something we can give.