24 Sep Out of the Mouths of Babes: A First Grade Teacher Tells Us What She’s Learned
I have four kids, so I’m at school–A LOT. And even though I love kids, my kids’ teachers really love kids. Getting to know the teachers is almost as much fun as watching them teach. They spend about 35 hours a week in the classroom. Scratch that. They invest 35 hours a week in the hearts and minds of our children. And the best ones don’t just teach; they let themselves be taught.
The school day is packed. Have you seen the curriculum? I think my first grader is learning the same stuff I learned in middle school! Pressure to perform academically and socially in classrooms bursting with the unique personalities of two dozen different kinds of kids means teachers get the BIG job of shaping some serious character. Recently, I asked a first grade teacher what she loved most about her little people, and she told me three things she’s learned in the last fifteen years:
1. Kids are naturally compassionate and want to help. This teacher has several inclusion kids in her class. Even though they often act out and need additional help with schoolwork, she says she can hardly keep the kids from anxiously tripping over each other to lend a hand. They want to be helpers. That’s why whenever you ask a little kid what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll often mention things like superhero, policeman, firefighter, nurse, or teacher. They admire these people. And they should!
2. Kindness isn’t learned; it’s unlearned. We often confuse kids’ lack of a filter with unkindness. They call ’em as they see ’em, so we say. They aren’t being unkind. They’re just observing, and the world as they see it is innocent and unfiltered. Their questions help them formulate their ideas about how the world works. This is basic science, people! It’s when we whisper and act aghast at these comments that they begin suspecting something is awry. Kids connect the dots between different and bad. The dots aren’t real, though. We made them up, and we’re the ones that have drawn the proverbial line in the sand to delineate our differences. Parents and teachers are uniquely positioned to help them understand complex situations without being condescending or judgmental.
3. Generosity can and should be fun. Kids love to get presents. Whenever we go out of town, all of mine beg me to bring home a souvenir for them. And birthdays and Christmas are a big deal around here! But you know what’s even more fun? Choosing something special for someone else. There’s a verse in the Bible (Luke 6:30) about giving to everyone who asks, and that’s hard as an adult because we know how hard we had to work to build up that bank account. We think we earned all those dollars and that we deserve them somehow. Kids don’t really own anything, so maybe that’s why it’s so easy for them to give–love, laughter, hugs, even gifts. My favorite thing in the world is watching my six year-old scour her room for something for someone’s birthday. She’ll wrap up the most creative, heartfelt little items, and honestly I wouldn’t trade those homemade presents for all the money in the world. Why is it that as we age our bodies soften and our hearts harden? Nothing I have REALLY belongs to me; I’m just the steward of it.
When my kids shuffle off the bus in front of our house at 2:30, I’m tempted to stuff them with a snack, start homework, and then hurry off to additional “enrichment” activities. No wonder my friends usually say they’re “busy” when I ask how they’re doing. I didn’t know busy was an emotion but whatever. I can’t help but wonder about all the teachable moments we may be missing in the midst of all this busyness. And I’m not just talking about what we can teach our kids. I’m also talking about all the things we miss when we don’t create space for them to teach us.
The classroom experience is rich with all kinds of opportunities to engage with people different than us. It’s a microcosm of the world we live in. It’s challenging, and it’s exhausting (at least that’s what their teachers tell me), and it doesn’t have to end when the kids get home from school. Please take a few minutes to engage your kids in play. Purposeful play. Get out a few dolls. Or blocks. Or cars. Don’t be surprised if they set up a little pretend school-even after being there all day. They will share stories about what they learned. They will whisper secrets about who they met. This time is vital for processing life, for clarifying your values. It’s not that hard. And you don’t even have to go anywhere or spend any money to do it.