The elementary school classroom is probably the only professional (non-medical) workplace where teeth come out on a regular basis and it’s not even a big deal. So much of a teacher’s day is more about life and the human condition than academics.
Last week, I took an opportunity to visit the fourth grade class where my friend is doing her practicum. I learned a lot. An elementary classroom is a bit like a three-ring circus, but there are actually 30 rings with individual needs, learning styles, abilities, and interests. As the teacher, you are responsible to meet those needs and keep all 30 kids somewhat together because after all, no child will be left behind.
The culture of the classroom seemed very focused on letting the individual take responsibility for his or her own learning. Often, the teachers would give a directive and then let the students work either alone or in groups to accomplish the task. Two and a half dozen fourth graders working together generates a bit of commotion. When they are set loose to work, you get the whole gamut. The overachievers ask for a few more minutes to put final touches on their writing piece. The child with a troubled home life who comes to school hungry and disengaged will not participate unless you sit by his or her side, and even then, maybe not. The diligent students who may not be considered top of the class dutifully fulfill the entire assignment no matter how long it takes. The more energetic ones lap the classroom a few times to get their creative juices flowing. A buzz of happy chatter enlivens the room while the teachers make their rounds answering questions and giving feedback.
When the kids in my friend’s class went to P.E. the teachers had a prep period to plan the upcoming week. But they spent a lot more time talking about the class, both as a whole and as individual students. They discussed how the kids were doing, progress they’d seen from certain kids already that day, ways they were planning to reach out to the few who weren’t with the group in learning activities, etc. It amazed me how in tune these teachers were with the needs of each of their 30 kids. Watching them notice the needs of each child and make plans accordingly was quite possibly the definition of altruistic beauty. And to top it off, the teacher didn’t even flinch when one little boy lost his tooth–just another typical day in the classroom.
So as a teacher, how do you balance everything of life and humanity with the subject matter your kids need to know? This fourth grade teacher offered a hopeful and optimistic axiom, “If you teach a child to love learning, the rest will come.” Amen.