Four days of teaching new kids at the American Embassy School and we’re already old friends. Good music, good simple choreographies and compositions from the kids, good singing, good humor. As always, my crafted talent is the group mind and heart, get it moving, get it groovin’, get it singing, get it swingin’.
But, like in my own school, I’m noticing that in each class there’s always one, two or three kids not with the program. Does it bother me? Yes, it does. My first reaction, to be honest, is “what the heck is wrong with you?” But then quickly, “What’s going on?” There are so many reasons that a child might not participate. For example:
• This is way over my head. There’s no way I’ll be successful so I might as well not try.
• This is way too easy. I’m already bored.
• I never get enough attention, so maybe you’ll notice me if I’m a jerk.
• I’m feeling really sick today.
• I’m sad about something that happened at home.
• Hey, I’m a boy. Of course I’m going to make fun of this!
• I’m only 5 years old, but I got issues.
• I have reasons you’ve never even heard of.
And so on. And how do I react? Well, there’s no formula. Sometimes a stern reminder and clear statement as to who’s boss and you better shape up is just what the kid is asking for.
Sometimes a little joke establishes some much-needed trust. Sometimes rewarding instead of punishing their stubborn behavior (like the kid who refused to sing and practice the song and got to play the big bass bars) works like an aikido move to turn the energy around. Sometimes a simple question: “Are you feeling okay? Oh, you have a fever?” The delicate balance is to entice the child to successfully participate, both to contribute positively to the group endeavor and feed their own learning.
This is the art and craft of teaching that is based on relationship and can never be codified in a systematic approach to compliance. Kids, like adults, are unpredictable and subject to so many whims and fancies, that each class demands a multiple of strategies to help each kid while tending to the group energy. It requires patience and faith and perseverance, from the teacher and kid alike.
One more day of teaching here before heading back to Shanghai. We’ll see what surprises they have in store for me tomorrow.
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