Tuesday, January 3, 2023

First Day Back


It’s a brand new year. Columbia/HoCo students and teachers are headed back to school this morning. Parents are easing everyone back into the morning routine. Lunches are packed, backpacks are located, the clock is watched to make sure no one will be late. 

The first day back after a vacation can be challenging. 

On the other hand, school may be the one place where some students find acceptance in a way they don’t receive it at home. It may be a source of stability in a chaotic life. It may be the one place that they receive breakfast and lunch every day. 

When people rant that school “should just be about learning” with demands to strip out anything they don’t like, they forget that school is about “learning and.” Education is a process, an experience. It is not separate from life, but connected and relevant to it. 

  • Learning and human growth
  • Learning and the student’s daily life/experiences
  • Learning and the community 
  • Learning and self-concept/identity 
Learning cannot exist in a vacuum. It is not filling canned goods on an assembly line. All truly good teachers know this. If you can remember a good teacher who made a difference in your life, long after your school years are over, it is because of this. Often the reason a teacher can light up an area of study for students is because of their deep understanding of the students, not merely the content area.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano has made it a point to emphasize this during his tenure.

In order to teach a child well, you must know a child well.

I don’t know if some of our current school critics understand what that means. It takes just as much work, perhaps more, than mastery of one’s content area. You can’t just rip open a box of Instant Teacher and dump the content out over a group of students.

Well, you could try. It would not be pretty.

I saw this photo yesterday and it put me in mind of going back to school.

Image by April Soetarman, Weird Side Projects*

As an early childhood educator I used to spend time in every parent teacher conference emphasizing the important qualities I hoped to see (and foster) in each child: curiousity, willingness to take risks, a positive self-concept, kindness, the capacity for enjoyment These are all essential ingredients for learning and also for a happy and meaningful life. 

Many parents came in to those conferences wanting to talk about alphabet recognition, pre-reading skills, handwriting, counting, and all the topics they were sure meant “success” in kindergarten. Of course we talked about those but in the context of who the child was: how they learned best, and where they were going.

Can we as adults be comfortable with encouraging our children to go forth and make glorious new mistakes? It’s hard sometimes. We have so much invested in them and we always, at heart, want to see them “get it right.” But they only learn through doing. Doing comes with the possibility of mistakes. 

The opportunity for learning is in how the student is treated in that moment. Are they shamed or supported? Are they lectured to “go do it the right way” or encouraged to examine what they did and how they got there? Can they take away from that experience something that will help them in the future?

Oh, what a challenge that is, both for parents and teachers. We have to exercise those muscles that allow children and young people the room to choose and sometimes to fail. To make glorious new mistakes. It can be a tremendous struggle and I know that I have sometimes failed - -  both as a parent and a teacher. 

Going back to school after a vacation is an opportunity for all of us to reset. Why not take this time to let go of making the same old mistakes and embrace making glorious new mistakes? 

* Weird Side Projects: Experiments in code, text, street art, food, and feelings. Works by A.Soetarman. 

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