Remembering How To Play

I look back at some of my more recent posts and I feel that I owe my readers an apology. I’m not even sure that I know who that person is that wrote those posts. Someone sad and lost, I think. That is where I have been for the past six or seven months. It took me a while to figure out why, but I think that I have finally gotten myself together.

I wrote recently that the children in my class do not know how to play. I think that a more accurate assessment of the situation is that I have forgotten how to play. My philosophy of education, which I so fiercely defended when I was in my first co-teacher position, went straight out the window when I entered my second. I was so focused on the special needs issues of the classroom that I neglected the other children in the room. When I turned my attention to the other children, I began to focus more on what I wanted them to learn rather than what they wanted to learn. I began to use coercion and punishment in order to achieve circle times, bathroom times, and other activities. Discipline problems began to rise and nerves began to get frazzled – and not just mine, but the children’s as well. Making the children do what I wanted to do became the order of the day, and while we fought tooth and nail to get things done, it felt like we got nothing done. Activities lost their meaning because more time was spent on a battle of wills than on any meaningful classroom projects. And through it all, I lost the love of my job. I began to hate going to work. I haven’t picked up a book bout early childhood education in months. The workshops that I so lovingly and excitedly prepared are gathering dust because I have had no energy or desire to do anything with them.

A turn-around in my thought process began this week as I wondered where the researcher in me went. That was why I loved this job so much – the thrill of figuring out why children do the things they do, how they think about certain things and why, and how to work with them to change their thought processes. Why d they behave a certain way in certain situations? These are puzzles that my brain loves to figure out, and these puzzles are absent from a classroom where everything that is done is what the teacher wills. The children lose their individuality in that case and become part of a group, and the puzzles become meaningless. The researcher in me gets lost in the shuffle, being taken over by the dictator who plans every moment and decrees every movement.

Upon further examination of the situation, I realized that my focus had also shifted from the children to the subject matter. I longed to teach my class about houses in the same way that I had taught my previous class, but I had forgotten that the subject of houses had arisen from the interest that the children showed in them rather than a desire by me to teach them about houses. I forgot that every big project that we did stemmed from their interest first. I forgot that no activity was mandatory, but usually no decree was needed; the children usually magically gravitated toward the activities that I laid out. The classroom was wildly productive and there was mutual respect shown between the teacher and students. Classroom rules weren’t stated as arbitrary decrees, but were handed out with logical explanations that the children could understand.

I have begun interacting with the class differently, keeping in mind the amount of time I ask the children to sit; keeping in mind the use of arbitrary statements; keeping in mind that activities can flow from the children just as easily as they can flow through the lesson plan. The results have been amazing. I have seen a huge downshift in the amount of behavior problems that had flared up. The appearance of individual personalities in the classroom has led to an appearance of several social and physical behaviors that need to be worked on. A problem that seemingly had no cause is showing signs of a pattern.

The problem has been one of philosophy. I have tried to overlay my educational philosophy onto one that is counter to mine, and the results ended up being a surrender of my educational beliefs. Going forward, I will have to figure out how to reconcile this. For now, I am having fun finding my way back to a classroom that I can enjoy being in.

And I am also having fun remembering how to play.

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