Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Joy of Working with Children

Some days it's easy to forget about the joy it is to work with children. The weight of learning to still be done; the weight of paperwork and preparation can overwhelm sometimes the sheer joy of being with fresh, insightful, creative, intelligent, energetic young people who inspire and amaze if you have the time to notice. One of the things I love best about teaching is bragging about what 'my kids' have done or said during the day. I tell other teachers, the office ladies, friends and family (always being respectful of confidentiality of course - a professional must). I just can't help but be excited about the great thoughts and works these kids are capable of. My joy as a teacher is to give kids space to exercise their greatness. It means we have lots of talking in my classes. There are lots of discussions. If someone has a new idea; a new game, a new activity, a new approach, I do my best to allow that to be explored. Plans are made for the day but most often we travel a windy path in and out of the set plan. Flexibility allows us to follow and work with what the children are interested in now!

The hard thing to have to deal with is time. There are constant deadlines and bells and interruptions of one kind or another. I imagine as a child that it would be fantastic to be allowed to learn at one's own pace and as one's interest flowed. I imagine how wonderful it would be to come to school in the morning and know that I could work all day on one thing if I wanted to. I imagine that it would be so fantastic to have a teaching system where my teacher could have all the resources in the classroom for it to be my learning workshop. I imagine what it would be like to have teachers who would be a support in my learning journey; who would show an interest in the learning I wanted to do and support me in that. I imagine that I could discuss with my teacher what project I'd like to work on and that my teacher would help me to find the things I needed to do that. As a teacher I think about how much kids would learn if we could teach that way. I think about how much more excited kids would be about learning if they had more control over it. I think this is happening more as kids have access to technology and researching is at their fingertips. I want to be able to say 'yes' to kids about their ideas about learning projects so that they don't end up retreating into technologies for all their learning. I want to be free to say 'yes' to hands on experiential learning so that they can build their knowledge and deep understanding of concepts. 

On Monday mornings we do cooking at school. It is wonderful to see the enthusiasm as we weigh and measure and stir and heat. And eat! The children love to test the results. This week we made scrambled eggs on toast and fresh squeezed orange juice. We got to talk about where the food comes from, what is good about bread with oats and barley added, how fresh squeezed juice is different from bottled juice. We laid the table and talked about how many. How many knives, forks, plates. They are six and seven years old so these are the kinds of discussions we have. They cooked toast and buttered it and cut it in half. They piled it up on plates to share. They cut oranges in half (with help) and looked at how much juice they could get out of each piece. Their enthusiasm for this process translated into two large jugs of juice. I was impressed! They just kept going. They didn't give up even though it was hard work. They chopped fresh parsley to add to the scrambled eggs.  

I was able to share the story of my old green glass juicer. It is one of my treasures. I bought it from the old church next to the school when it used to be an 'op shop' back in the 1980s. It has travelled with me on my adventures sailing and living interstate. It was fun to share a bit of local history with the kids as part of the day.

When everything was ready we all sat down together and shared a wonderful breakfast. I couldn't manage it on my own, but with a wonderful teacher aide and a mum who comes in to help, it's a breeze. Whilst chatting over the meal, one little girl piped up, "It's just like the whole class has come to my house to visit,". I knew in that moment how important these experiences are for children. She felt like the host. Because they all did their part they probably all felt like hosts on the day. After the meal we all chipped in to wash, dry and put away dishes, wipe down tables and the plastic table cloths, sweep up crumbs from under the tables and chairs. 

At the end of the morning we had nothing to show for our work. The children had full tummies and happy smiles. The kitchen was clean as a whistle, like no one had been in there. If someone had come in to see what we'd been doing all morning there was nothing to show for it. Teaching is like that sometimes. We can have stacks of worksheets all over the sitting at desks all day wishing they were somewhere being quiet and listening to the teacher all day...or we can have busy, hands-on, fun filled real life learning experiences that don't necessarily end up with something to show for it but where lots of learning goes on. 

We do our share of writing and paper based work, but I try to keep the kids moving around and having fun for as much of the time as I can. I don't mind the chaos. I don't mind the noise. I don't mind the 'not being in control'. In fact, it's a joy. I love my job and I love 'my kids'. I hope they learn the things they need to learn while they are with me. I hope they learn to be cooperative, valuable members of communities. I hope they learn that they have something worthwhile to contribute. Most of all I hope they learn not to need me any more. That's what I'm there for.

PS The joy of being asked to watch a boy tie his own shoelaces...I am so blessed.


  1. what a wonderful teacher you are Kerry. Ever think of starting up your own school, using your methods, giving kids the freedom to learn at their own pace?

    1. It's great to have the philosophy and I have read about different schools that use a more child-centred approach but I just don't know if I'd have it in me. Thanks for the vote of confidence!