Needing some blogging motivation, I have decided to participate in the #kinderchat summer blog challenge. Here is question number one:
What did you learn this past (or, for our southern hemisphere friends, what ARE you learning this current) school year that you couldn't have learned any other year, from any other students or colleagues or administrators or parents? What lessons did this particular year, this particular setting, these particular children bring into your life?
As I stepped out of the classroom this year to better focus on grad school, I stepped into the role of full time in home teacher to a (now) 4 year old and a (now) 18 month old. I had expected this to be a less challenging year than a year of teaching. Thankfully, I was utterly wrong. This was a challenging year which means that it was a growing year. These two boys and their parents have taught me invaluable lessons in regards to where I am headed professionally to how I react personally.
I met my two boys last summer and spent the summer teaching them how to become explorers and artists and builders and adventures and loving every minute of it. I grew to learn their idiosyncrasies, how they communicated nonverbally, what phenomena fascinated them, how to encourage them; in short, how to see each child for the individual they are. By the end of our year together I have come to completely know who these boys are and who they are constantly evolving in to. This was pretty powerful for me. I have always claimed that I knew how to see children, to see them for who they are as individuals and what their individuality brings to a classroom or daycare setting. In reality, I did my best and had good intentions, but always let the group setting prevail and in that failed to see and notice a lot of what made each child unique. I missed out on using their uniqueness to really create the classroom community I had been preaching and claiming to have. After spending an intense amount of one on one time with these boys, I have learned what it is to really see. I have discovered how to look and listen to a child in a way that transcends observation notes. In spending this time with these children, I have learned what makes true documentation, the learning and the child made visible. Made visible to everyone, including me. I'm grateful for this lesson and it's my hope to carry this ability to really see the person into my work with teachers. Both allowing me to really see and listen to the teachers, and to assist in seeing and hearing the children in their care.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was the parent perspective. This was a lesson that hit me hard and was completely unexpected. I'll admit, prior to my learning at Erikson, I worked in environments that preached parent involvement, but never lived up to their words and I was fine to just go along with the flow rather than advocate for parents. This will never again be me. I'm so fortunate to go to a grad school that forces you to reflect on how you work with parents and families. As I stepped out of the classroom last year, I vowed to do better by parents inspired by my instructors and classmates. As I stepped into the boys' home, I quickly learned that I had better practice what I believed. I started the year with the promise to myself and to their parents that we would be a team in raising and educating they boys. This is what made this year more work than being in a classroom to me. There were no portfolios mandated (though I did keep them, I just love documenting), no conferences required, no lesson plans due (to anyone but the boys). The work was in establishing a powerful relationship with the parents. I was in their house, this was their world, not the world of my classroom, and I needed to acclimate to this world. As the year progressed the parents and I butted heads over many issues from what to eat to my distaste for flash cards. The difference was that I listened, truly listened, to the parents and attempted to understand them before I spoke. It didn't matter what I knew about child development, it was more important that we worked together to come to an agreement. I found that this listening led to the parents' trust and the parents' trust led to me being able to offer my opinions and research on ways to help the boys. And you know what? They were more receptive than any parents I've yet to have in my classroom.
In the same manner, since I was the person dropping the older boy off and picking him up from preschool, I was able to experience schooling from the other side of the wall, from the parents' side. And I didn't like what I saw! I was met with a wall of resistance from the older boy's teachers when I attempted to have conversations about why he was getting trouble in his (30 minute) circle time or why his outdoor time was being taken away because he was not sleeping at nap time. As a parent de facto, I was shut out by the teachers and I was not pleased. (The same was done to the parents.) A month into the school year, we got a note saying that the teachers and principal were requesting that no parents or caregivers drop their children off in the classroom, they were to drop them at the main door and pick them up outside. They wrote that this was to promote independence (which is not at all true in terms of development), but the fact was that it alienated parents. It put parents on one side of an unbreakable wall. There was no way to promote the parents as members of the class community. And it made me livid. I had come to be very attached and concerned about the boys (that's what 10 hours a day/5 days a week will do to you!) and how dare a teacher exclude me from his school life. This outcry that I felt was the beginning of a long period of reflection (you can see how this played out on this post) on how teachers purposefully or not purposefully treat parents. It shed light on the type of inclusive teacher I want to be and the type of inclusiveness I want to help teachers become. Had I not had the opportunity to work with a family in their home, I never would have had such a powerful teaching on how a parent can come to feel as their child starts school. It was as though I really was "walking a mile in their shoes". Being on the other side of a classroom door has forever changed the way I will speak to and work with parents for the better.
This year also taught me a lot about how I handle stress and frustration. Working so intimately with a family provides a lot of opportunities for upset feelings and long days and times when you want to scream. Throughout the course of the year I learned that I needed to make time for myself and I turned to yoga for stress relief and found that I was a better teacher, a kinder caregiver, and a better listener when I forced myself to stop and breath and to take care of myself. It was quite the lesson as I had transitioned from a job where I felt as though I had to go above and beyond to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion just to stay afloat in the shark tank I worked in. Never again will I allow a job to take my life so completely that I stop breathing and stop acting in ways that I believe are right and instead allow myself to be bullied into behaving contrary.
Finally, this year brought about the first "thank you" I have ever gotten from an employer. I'll admit, when I stepped out teaching for grad school, I was broken from a toxic environment and had began to doubt my path in early childhood. The simple grateful act of a thank you invigorated me to keep going, to do the work that I have passion and commitment to. I don't know if the family will ever know how much they have taught me, healed me, and pushed me this year. But I am grateful.