Well the final blow has come. I am soon to be unemployed. I actually thought the school I am working for was going to make it. I thought we had weathered stormy night of economic bad times and come out into a gentle day of calm with a chance of some favorable winds to take us forward. But, ’tis not to be. ‘Twas all a dream in somebodies pipe now gone up in smoke.
I have gotten to know some really wonderful children and families, and I am grateful for that. I guess I have always been lucky that way. I really love working with children and families especially when my supervisors or administrators or benchmarks or regulations don’t get in the way of the relationships that make for a good learning environment. This was one of those situations, and one of the only times in my 25 years of teaching it has occurred. So now I am faced with the loss of something precious and the depressing task of selling myself back into the bondage of “The System” which neither supports my style of teaching or the uniqueness of every child and family.
There is a lot lip service paid to individualizing and a lot of research that shows the best ways to teach. The way I see it, there is no best way to teach any given group of children. There is no curriculum that can help you optimize the growth and development of children as if children were generic. Children are not. Curricula must flow from the group and individuals in that group and the families involved with the teacher as a collaborator watching and seizing the opportunities that arise without pre-loading the situation with personal preferences. Sure you must set up a rich environment that stimulates thoughtful play and encourages interactions, but if you go into a new situation loaded with ideas for activities and busy work you will be more interested in implementation than observation. A good teacher must wait, watch and be ready to seize every opportunity to engage students in their own pursuits and allow the family life of children to seep into the environment and interactions on a daily basis. In my experience, students will show you the path to teaching them if you pay attention. And, you cannot pay attention properly if you have carefully crafted lessons plans to lovingly administer. You cannot serve two masters. Either you are paying attention to what you need to teach or you are paying attention to who these growing people are. And if you don’t know who they are, you are only doing surface teaching. Nothing deep and lasting occurs.
This is my philosophy basically, and it is not popular in most early childhood programs, because teachers and administrators are mostly all about control of children and families. They have spent their lives studying children and families and have ideas about what is best for them based on these studies. The problem is that as soon as you start generalizing about human beings you lose the essence of who they are as individuals. People are complex. Children are complex. Families are complex. And if you have a philosophy of education that is generic you might be successful in fulfilling required benchmarks and have children who demonstrate certain behaviors, but have you helped a child or family feel they have the power to learn and grow with or without a professional’s guiding hand? In short the better you are at planning curriculum the less empowered your students become. The more you rely on preplanned events and activities the more you exclude the parents involvement in their child’s education. Public schools in general are a good example of this.
I am looking for a job, but I am not optimistic about finding one that will let me do the work in a way that I believe is best. For a year and a half I did not have to compromise my philosophy of education, and for that I am grateful. But, now I don’t know if I can go out into the world of lesson plans and benchmarks and requirements, and find a place that will let children be individuals, leave room for families to participate, and let me facilitate a learning environment that empowers children to be who they are as learners. But, who knows, maybe I will get lucky again.