For nearly thirty years I have been a teacher. I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach young minds how to read, write and compute. I have been able to teach them about our country and its origins and about the wonders of science. I taught teamwork and the value of fitness. I have watched their little minds absorb what I had to say and regurgitate it when asked to prove to myself and others that they had indeed learned what I had to teach. I had the greatest job in the world!
The job was much better than what I was technically trained to do in college (financial analyst), and the working conditions far exceeded what I had experienced at either Ford Motor Company or Nissan Motor Manufacturing. Alright the compensation at the beginning was a bit on the light side (my accountant actually fired me and told me about Turbo Tax) but the non-compensatory benefits were awesome! I got all the hugs I could handle and opportunities to see real growth. Let’s not forget the summers either! As I stated before…..it was the greatest job in the world!
Then one day my world came crashing down. I came to the realization that I was NOT an effective teacher! I had become a problem in my own classroom. I was actually detrimental to the learning of my students. Don’t get me wrong, my lessons were top notch, my planning superb, my presentation style was not to be outdone. People gave me compliments and the parents at school wanted their children to be in my class. But I knew, deep inside, I was inhibiting my students. I was stopping them from reaching their full potential and stealing their bright futures……..In short, I TALKED TOO MUCH!
But the truth is that everything I had to say was important (well maybe not some of my corny jokes). I mean it was really cool stuff. Kids needed to know it so that they could grow up to be successful, right? But I noticed that my kids waited for me…..waited for the instruction, waited for the inspiration, waited for the direction and waited to be told what to do and how to plan. Worst of all, they waited for me to show them how and what to think.
In my quest to be the best and impart the most I had killed inquisitiveness, curtailed “out-of-the-box” thinking and removed the struggle of learning. I was assuming I knew what they were telling me, but did I? Did I really understand their thoughts and their needs? I was spoon feeding my kids into dependency and failing to make them take responsibility for their own learning…….This needed to stop NOW! But how could I change? I mean I had a lot of time invested in my “stuff” and my style.
I began with a promise to myself to say less and listen more, to question more and accept less at face value. It has been a struggle! I mean really? Don’t I know more than an elementary school kid? I continue to struggle with it. You might even say that I am continuing in a program of purposeful mutism. If I can make my students think more and struggle more they make more connections and have more enthusiasm for what they are doing. And guess what? The same experiences that I worked so hard to choreograph in the classroom are usually experienced by the students’ own doing. I didn’t even need to get in the way! So….until I retire I’ll continue to “hold my tongue” and let the kids talk! I challenge you to do the same.