15 Dec What I Am: A Teacher
Today is my sixtieth birthday. In Chinese tradition, I am told, a person reaching this age begins life anew, starting over as a young child. I love this image of a very mature adult putting aside the serious and mundane to frolic in the delights of life that somehow only the very young seem to notice and enjoy. However, I seemed to have reached this stage long before other 60 year-olds. I have delighted in these acts much of my adult life: noticing small things that others often miss, laughing often, playing with ideas and words, creating stories and characters, and so forth. I believe this perspective has added a dimension to my role as a teacher that cannot be learned. It is a part of who I am and what I do.
I am called to be a teacher. This is not a religious statement, but there may be a spiritual aspect to it. I am called to be a teacher by children themselves. Ever since I was a young adult, I have sensed a connection to the very young. On countless occasions, I have seen, met, or simply walked past a young child I did not even know. They met my gaze, or smiled, or just stared at me, sending a wordless message of recognition, as if to say, “I see you; I know who you are.” I smile at them, or wave them a finger wiggle, trying to return that message. “Yes, sweet child, I see you, too. I know who you are!” This has even happened to me in other countries and with children with whom I do not share the same language. I cannot explain it; these unspoken conversations simply happen. They connect me to children everywhere I go.
This foundation for interacting with young children translates into a unique position for a teacher. I have been able to establish positive, trusting, and lasting relationships with the keiki in my classroom for the past 20 years. We have danced, sung (even yodeled at the lunch table), read, painted, dug, talked, ran, written, jumped, explored, laughed, and even cried together. I sometimes see these same children, now grown to be adults or teens. Even though it fills me with excitement to see them again, I greet them casually—some don’t remember me—but all are pleased that I remembered them over the years. Though the children may forget many of the details of our time together, their parents and I keep the memory of their earliest years of school continually in our minds.
Earlier this year, I left the classroom to take a position working with teachers, principals, and others in the community who teach and care for young children. Some might consider this a difficult transition, but that has not been the case. I translate the experiences I had in the classroom into narratives that serve to illustrate why certain choices we make are so important: why children need to play, how they can learn to explain what they know and how they know it, how they can learn to develop positive relationships, and why that must happen before they learn other things that are taught in schools.
It is for these reasons that I have a deep a sense of profound satisfaction in having been a teacher of young children. Perhaps as I pass this important life marker, I must shift in a different way than most do. Yes, I will continue to play, laugh, and sing, but I will tell the stories of young children’s lives and help others understand why it is vital to all of us that we must give children the opportunity to be children and to enjoy their natural perspectives of learning about the world and enjoying life. Isn’t that what being a teacher is about?