Read an education Website, sit in on a Board of Education meeting, take a class on teaching methods and you’ll hear all sorts of interesting words— benchmarks, anticipatory sets, portfolio assessments, zones of proximal development and more. But the most important word is often missing—kids.
If you’re a teacher or thinking about being a teacher, check in with yourself. Do I like kids? Do I enjoy being around them? Do I love them? If the answer is no, get out fast!
If yes, then get more specific. What ages do I particularly love? And what specifically do I love about them? How can I understand more deeply how they think, what they like, what matters to them? Then build all your teaching choices around that understanding and without being fluent in education-jargon, you’ll have yourself a pretty exciting classroom.
Good teaching begins with useful insights into the nature of kids— the way they both astound us and drive us crazy, the way we can’t wait to be around them and are relieved to have a break from them, the way they give us hope for who we might have been and the way they mirror back to us the worst of who we are, the way they’re so zany and erratic, surprising and volatile, caring and cruel.
It’s not too hard to learn what kids are like. Really, all we have to do is remember. After all, we are all kids once. We were once alive with the wonder of the world, curious about its every nook and cranny. We used to run from place to place in sheer exultation from the excitement of being alive, giggle and laugh without going to the comedy club, spend hours in company with our own fantasy play. We also skinned our knees, felt small and powerless, felt inconsolable grief when our friends were mean to us or we didn’t get the part we wanted in the school play. Good teaching is the place where the kids we were, now grown into adults who remember, and the kids we teach, play together in the zone of proximal development.