Tag Archives: children

To Be A Teacher

“Are you ready to fly solo?” the text read. “Kristen went into early labor so you’re on your own tomorrow!” On a Tuesday in late October I entered Humanities Left at 8am with some knowledge of myths needing to be completed.  I was taking over for the 6th grade teacher out on maternity leave. Thinking that time was on our side Kristen and I had met the previous Friday going over the classroom routines and then  planned for a week together where I would shadow Kristen and then gradually be released into the world of humanities.

Well, babies have their own timing and Kristen was in Labor and I was standing alone in front of a bunch of sixth graders. What, I wondered, would  a three month stint back in the classroom bring? Stomach flipping anxiety? Fun? Would I be able to let go of the classroom at the end of the day or keep my experiences tied into who I was as a person, my self-worth included?

What I found , during that three month stint, finally was a growing sensation that  I could finally be myself. Certainly there were rough stints.

One day was especially hard. After a week of teaching, tutoring, and babysitting I burst through the doors of my house practically in tears. “What’s wrong?” asked Swami Ramananda. . As I recalled the daily digest and also expressed frustration at myself for feeling a need for control, he said, “Hmm..can you notice your behavior without responding to it?”

What was it about the classroom then that I felt I had to control others’ behavior? I watched myself one day as I got into a futile argument with a student over paper. Hmm. Would the result of the argument help the objectives of the assignment? Or just prove to this ego that I am the teacher and therefore in “control.” If the argument didn’t go my way then what? Was I not in control?

Taking Ramananda’s advice, I began to watch my behavior. Were there times, when altough I might not agree with a student’s decision, I could let it go? And what happened if I did? As I stepped back, the classroom became it’s own entity in which I was a part but not in charge of.Students come to me for help, and I started to only interfere if I felt that a student needed to be guided back on track to reach the objectives of the class.

More and more I let the class become truly about the students and I as an ally to guide them along.  One student in particular if not given specific directions would spend the class gazing at the ceiling or tying his shoe. One day I asked him, “What is it that you need from me to help you feel successful?” The shift from having all the answers to a collaboration with the students  shifted the space dramatically.

I will also say that this was a class that allowed for an easy collaboration. The classroom so varies on the personalities that it brings. It’s not always the case that I, or any teacher can so easily step back and let the classroom be as it is.

Children reveal our greatest vulnerabilities. Child professionals and parents have an especially big sensitivity button that when pushed can spill tears, rage, blame, love, hugs, and praise sometimes all in one blubbery sentence! It is easy to put one’s exbrokennpectations of self-worth, and measures of success and failures on that of a child as they have an easy way of exposing adults for whom they really are. Inside we feel a great sense of pride when these children experience a certain measure of success and a bout of dissapointment when they don’t measure up to one’s expectations.

When a child appears resistant or shows a lack of understanding it is easy to jump into fix-it mode. With what could appear as stalled movements forward fix-it mode can turn into desperation which can spew blame, dissapointment,frustration, and sadness by the adults around him or her.Is it possible that while we are applying all of our knowledge to those that need it,we can also just be by their side and let them know that they are not broken, but loved just as  they are?

Connection and empathy are  often the most empowering gestures that we can give and receive. The ablity to sit with a student and be with him or her exactly where he or she is in struggle or success is a practice. As authors Michael I. Bennet and Sarah Bennet express in their book F*ck Feelings, “It’s the loving parents of self-hating kids who are genuinely the most amazing, specialest, snowflake parents of all.” In the acceptance of that self-hating child or whatever stage they are in, allowing him/her to  just being perfect in their imperfections we are also showing ourselves that same acceptance which, at the end of the day, may (or may not) help us take a step forward.



Bad Mice and Flying Giants

There are giants in the sky.There are big tall terrible giants in the sky…sings Jack from the play Into the Woods, a  musical that combines all the fairy tales into three acts. The first act all the fairy tales end happily ever after, and in the second…well, explores what would happen if the Giant’s wife came and got revenge.

I was playing this song for my four year old charge. We were at a nearby campus because Dad was working for home and the little girl (who I will call Lisa) requested that we spend time there instead of a nearby playground. The campus was  not at all kid friendly. There were no slides or swings, or even big fields of grass.

The song came about because as we sat down to have a picnic (trail mix and bananas), it came into my head and out of my mouth. “What’s that?” asked Lisa. “Oh, it’s one of my favorite songs.” I told her. “Here, I’ll play it for you,” taking out my phone not half hour after dad had said to me, “No media, please.”

Funny enough the previous day I confessed to a friend, “I have to admit; I’m addicted to my phone.” Not as bad as some perhaps, but I do pull it out when I am on the bus, walking down the street, and even at work.. Of course, when I catch myself mindlessly whittling the way the hours on the screen, I feel more tired and  disengaged from the people and the world around me. I also think sometimes that having constant and instant entertainment, leaves less motivation for creativity. If we have instant entertainment than there’s no sense of boredom and then no reason to make anything up!

And don’t get me wrong; having an electronic device has been very helpful and useful to me.  But I haven’t figured quite how to use the amount of media around me in a mindful way.

Anyway, I felt too, like the “no media” was a good six hour detox and challenge for myself. I certainly feel more present and more connected to what is going around me when it is not in front of me.

“Shoot.” I thought remembering ‘no media’ suddenly. How engrained it is in me! Well, music is different I justified. And we won’t watch the phone. We’ll just listen to it. But as all of us are conditioned to do, Lisa came closer to the phone wanting to see what was on the screen. “We’re just going to listen to it,” I said. And I put the phone face down. She respected that and started to listen to some of the lyrics. “Who’s Jack?” she asked and I started to tell her the story of Jack and the Beanstock. “Does he have a green hat? Did he come out of a hole? What does he look like?”

Pulling out the teacher card I said, “Well, what do you think he looks like?”

She sighed and said, “Can’t you just tell me.”So many of us are conditioned to have a right answer. With media at our fingertips we don’t even have to question or think, as we have the answers right in front of us. But it’s not even media per say. As soon as we read a book or watch a movie we suddenly have an idea of what something is like.

I remember reading the Ramona books as a child. I loved the very primitive drawings that it came with…and figured that Ramona was just a creative mess! She certainly looked like that in the book. When the series came out on PBS, I was shocked to see what she “Really” looked like; she and her family were much more of the all-american type than I would have ever imagined from reading the books.

I told Lisa, “The story has been told so many different times that everyone has a different picture of Jack.” She soon became uninterested in what Jack looked like and more interested in listening to the music again, and figuring out what a giant might look like. I found my own imagination activating as I asked Lisa questions. “Do you think a Giant is as big as that tree? Can they fly?” And suddenly we were looking up at the sky looking for giants. “There goes one!” she exclaimed. The theme of giants continued throughout our time outside with the only spurring of imagination being a song that Lisa could barely understand.

We walked back to the apartment (when we knew that Dad had left) for lunch continuing to be on the lookout for giants.

After a lunch of frozen pizza we proceeded to the living room where after building with train tracks and legos, I felt my energy diminish and I moved onto the couch where my body started sinking into the cushions. I felt the urge to just take a quick glance at my phone. Just for a second. A sneak peak. And as four year olds are very in-tune with when the attention is off of them and somewhere else, Lisa said to me, “Now you build. And I’ll watch you.”

My conscious spoke to me. Sarah, it said, When you advertise yourself as a caretaker you promise the parents to egange their children and be engaged in the activities that they enjoy. So start building train tracks and legos.

I said to Lisa, “Let’s do it together.”

Perhaps because it was too quiet or she just got bored, we put the legos and train tracks away. Suddenly,Lisa was a ballerina and  I found myself in a nightmarish version of the Nutcracker where the ballerina could not escape the “bad mice.” We took turns being the ballerina and the “bad mice” (even though it was just one mouse it was still ‘now you be the bad mice”) and then the game turned again. This time Lisa was the ballerina and I was the audience member.  Again,my body felt the comfort of the couch as I started to sink down. “This is not good! Quick entertain yourself!”

I remembered, then, my own living room performances as a four year old. I would take out the garbage bag of tutus and other costumes from previous ballet recitals and make my mom sit on the couch to marvel at my amazing talents. To perhaps engage herself (and me) she would make up voices pretending to be different audience members. On Lisa’s couch sat three stuffed animals. I put them on my lap, and much to Lisa’s and (my own) delight, I made them speak to each other and to me. “Oh my,” I thought. “If anyone walked in at this moment…” and as I found myself getting more into the characters:”It is ridiculous how much fun this is.”

The game ended only after Lisa’s dad walked in the door. “Papa! You have to sit on the couch and then all of the animals want to dance with me!”

As a sometimes aspiring and definitely struggling artist I wonder how to make the imagination jump off the page in a way that is engaging and makes sense. I marvel at fiction writers! And yet in the span of a day, two people banned from screen time, thirty years apart were able to make believe  and allow giants, bad mice, and stuffed animals come to life.