It's a good beginning....
One of the things I wished I'd given more thought to in my early days of teaching is my philosophy about kids. I spent a lot of time on lesson plans, classroom activities, newsletters home to parents (pre-email days!), record-keeping and collecting tzedakah.
I spent almost no time thinking about kids: how I felt about them, what I expected from them, how to build relationships with them, what kind of a community I wanted my classroom to be. In those days, I thought that all I was responsible for teaching was content.
Boy, was I wrong!
Content is an important part of Judaic education, to be sure. But it's not the be-all and the end-all. To quote Abraham Joshua Heschel: “We have to have more than textbooks, we need text-people.”
What I do now, when I begin a class, is deliberately remind myself how I think about kids. Here's what I've finally come up with, after all these years:
- I like kids
- I expect kids will be kids, not little grown ups
- I don't think kids get up in the morning and think, "Oh, boy, I get to see Morah Mary today. I wonder how many ways I can push her buttons?"
- I think kids learn different ways.
- I think kids show you what they've learned in different ways.
- I think kids want the grownups in their lives to like them.
- I think kids want, need and deserve respect.
- I think kids want to be heard.
- I think (often) that kids have as much to teach me as I have to teach them...and sometimes more!
What other core beliefs do I have regarding kids?
- To quote Rick Lavoie, "A kid would rather look bad than dumb."
- There's no wrong answer when I ask, "What do you think?"
- Sometimes the answer I get that I'm not expecting is much more insightful than the answer I thought I should get.
- A kid might not remember what I taught, but s/he will remember how they felt in my class.
- I need to remember at all times that I'm the grownup in the room -- and need to model "grownup behavior."
And, ultimately: a classroom needs to be a safe place for everyone - students, madrichim /aides, and teachers.
I've decided I want to be one of Heschel's text people.