Unfolding Education

“To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself–that is the first duty of the educator.” ― Maria Montessori

Why I Teach

Being a teacher means that for ten months of the year, there is an expectation that I am available to answer emails, calls, and texts between the hours of 6 am and 11 pm, seven days a week.

Being a teacher means that the bar on my qualifications is constantly moving, and I am required to take course after course, on my own time, and often on my own dime, at the whim of my school district and state.

Being a teacher means that at social events, when the conversation comes around to disclosing my career choice to other professionals, they usually say, “Oh, that’s nice”, and shortly after move right along to engage in conversation with someone a bit more influential or powerful.

Being a teacher means, despite earning about forty percent less than similarly qualified professionals in other fields, I spend a hefty amount of my own money on my classroom and students (sometimes even buying clothes and food for them).

Being a teacher means sleepless nights worrying about how to get through to that child who is shutting me out, or those children who aren’t learning as they should.

Being a teacher means not only devoting myself to my students, but also having to manage the sometimes challenging behaviors of their parents and guardians.

Being a teacher means working in a petri-dish of germs, being sick frequently and sometimes (more often than you would image) being pooped, urinated or vomited on!

Being a teacher means taking a fresh classroom full of students into my heart every year; living their success and failures, their joys and their tragedies as surely as they were my own, and then having to let them go.

Being a teacher means that I miss my own children’s school events, because they often coincide with those at my school.

Being a teacher means having to write five page lesson plans for every lesson I plan to teach, without ever being given time at work to write them (goodbye weekend).

Being a teacher means having to teach in prescribed ways (depending on the educational philosophy flavor of the month, at district or state level) and not really being trusted to teach or assess in the ways you know work.

Being a teacher means that the bar on expected income and benefits is also constantly moving, with regular adjustments being made to pension, pay scale, and bonuses (and many of the recent changes on this front make no sense at all).

Being a teacher means losing instructional time with your students for up to three weeks a year, so that they can take often changing, district or state mandated tests, that do nothing but turn your students off learning, and do little to show their actual abilities.

These are the things I consider every summer. With all those negatives, why is it that for fourteen summers now, I have reflected, and still decided to go back to the classroom and do it all again?  It’s because every summer, I remember the reasons why I love teaching:

Being a teacher means being given the gift of a new group of amazing young people to love and nurture every year.  Now, that may not be a very politically correct thing to say, given how we aren’t supposed to touch, much less hug (I teach kindergarten – hugs happen), our students these days, but I don’t know one good teacher, who doesn’t develop a real affection for, or connection with, his or her students every year.

Being a teacher means that I get to share in the failures and successes, joys and tragedies, of the students in my care. I get to offer congratulations when they come in on Monday, all excited about their soccer team’s win, or the great party they were at, or their new karate belt. I get to offer them encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, and yes, a hug, through losses, divorces, deaths, and whatever else life throws at them in our time together.

Being a teacher means that I get to facilitate a-ha moments on a daily basis. I get to shepherd my students down the path of discovery. I get to witness the look on their faces when that thing they have been working so hard to understand, finally and suddenly becomes apparent.

Being a teacher means that I get to teach my students that learning is a magnificent endeavor. I get to teach them to take that pleasure for themselves, and to push towards understanding and success, not to make me happy, nor to make their parents happy, but because it makes them feel good to do it.

Being a teacher means that I get to participate in the pure, unadulterated joy of childhood every day. I get to see things through the eyes of a child, and experience the wonder of everything anew, over and over again.

Being a teacher means that I am influential and powerful because I get to nourish humanity at its very roots. I get to encourage children to see beyond themselves; to their classmates, to their communities, and to the world. I get to help them develop a sense of themselves as capable and responsible members of society, and stewards of our planet. Every day I contribute to the formation of good, kind, well informed and well rounded human beings. We need those.

These are the reasons why I teach. The pros are fewer in number than the cons, but they are infinitely more powerful. So, despite the abuses, love and learning are the “drugs” that keep me coming back for more every year. That’s why I teach.

Weekends are Hard

summer I love school

I got this exchange by email this morning, from the mother of one of my kindergarten students:

Child: (after running down the stairs just now) “Mom, is there school today?”

Mom: “No, we are going to go to an egg hunt in 30 minutes, go get dressed.”

Child: (sigh complete with rising and dropping of shoulders with a deep breath) “Well can you email Ms. Cathy and tell her I miss her?”

Mom: “Yes, but aren’t you excited about the egg hunt?”

Child: (another deep sigh) “Yes mom, but I want you to tell Ms. Cathy I miss her…”

How marvelous that, with all the awful things we are hearing about education, there are still children who love going to school. It makes me feel good. But this lovely little dialog between this darling kindergartner and his mother, who was thoughtful enough to share it with me, is really not about me at all. It’s about a method of educating children that makes them love to learn, and even miss school when it’s the weekend.  Imagine a world where children happily jump out of bed on a Monday morning, delighted at the thought of getting into their classrooms, and getting to work. Imagine a world where we have to do a bit of group therapy whenever a long holiday, like Winter or Spring Break, looms on the horizon. As a teacher in a Montessori charter school, I feel very lucky to be part of that paradigm. Thank you once again, Maria Montessori!

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