April 28th, 2010 | No Comments »

I started thinking about the garden again. Beds are being dug, weeds are being pulled out, seeds are being sown. One of the beauties of living in a temperate zone is the very evident difference among seasons. The yearly death of trees, flowers, and bushes saddens me as much as their rebirth fills my heart with joy. The first sprouts in March never fail to put a smile on my face, and each year I decide I will find time and energy to be a good gardener.

This year the new season brings something else that is new: a professional life for me. Now, for the first time since I moved to Portland, I will be a ‘grown up’. No longer on a visa, no longer a student.

Growing up has its advantages and its shortcomings. With the freedom to work and make a living comes the responsibility to work and make a living. I have always been one to believe that work and fun must be synonyms for a fulfilling life. That is still my philosophy, but some ideas need revision. As with other matters, when weighing pros and cons, compromising proves to be key.

Yesterday I spent the day at the child center where I was working four months ago, a job I needed to leave to student teach in public schools as a requirement for the Master of Arts in Teaching program I am about to graduate from. My heart filled with the joy of being around the children, around MY students again, and I feel excited to be part of their lives for another four months until they graduate preschool. Work, just as relationships of any kind, always brings challenges, but the gains of sharing their joy as they find their way, their words, and their interests, surpasses little annoyances.

As I sat on the carpet to read to them or to listen to their tales, it felt as if the four months I have been away on my ‘sabbatical’ had not passed. I was really surprised, because four months in their lives is a long time; four months to a four year old child is equivalent to three years to a thirty seven year old adult – about one tenth of their life.

However, the enchantment of working with such young people and to be part of their first learnings is much more rewarding than the effective salary paid for that important job, which is saddening. No matter how I feel about financial compensation, at the end of the day it does matter. It allows me to hire someone to weed my garden so I can grow the flowers I want to beautify my home, it allows me to offer myself and my husband more than the basics when it comes to food and material possessions, it allows me to send gifts to my loved ones in Brasil and to visit them. And it allows me to do a better job at work because my personal life is fulfilled, I am rested and pleased, and I have mental space to increment the basic requirements with love and creativity. When I write about compromise, then, I refer to teaching grade school because I need to earn more to earn a better living – thus allowing me to teach better.

To think about being a grade school teacher, on the other hand, is to give it a chance to surprise me, to give those children the opportunity to share with me their hopes of learning and experimenting, just as Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince allows the weeds to grow enough to decide whether they will bring joy or hardship before deciding whether to care for them with all his will or to yank them from the ground.

Surprised already, I realize grade school expands the preschool teaching of life skills. It brings along the opportunity to work with reading and writing like I never did before, deeply supporting these young learners to independently make sense of the world around them. The more I give room in my heart for teaching the not-so-young children in Kindergarten and first grade, the fonder I grow of this idea and the possibilities around it.

Even as I begin to see myself as a grade school teacher, though, my core belief is still grounded in Early Childhood Education: work and pleasure go hand in hand, an idea unfortunately very disconnected from formal schooling. By pleasure, however, I do not mean idle fun, empty laughter. I mean deep joy of personal realization, of students learning they can: they can read, they can count, they can understand causes and consequences, they can document their learning to help understand it better and to share it with the world.

The key in this perspective is to permit and support children to figure out their own questions, to help them organize their thoughts, and to propose the tools for them to find answers. I trust that when children have a say in their learning, when their interests guide the teacher, the chores become challenges they actually want to surpass, and education earns the purpose it should have in the first place: to allow each one of us to conquer goals we set ourselves to.

With a lighter heart I come to the conclusion that when the focus is self realization – through Reading, Math, Gardening or College, the age of the learner matters very little. We are – and should be – forever overcoming obstacles and adding layers to our body of knowledge, and we all can use help seeing beyond our boundaries if we wish to one day get to the other side. To help others keep moving, in my opinion, is the job of a good teacher.

Thanks, Naninha, for the inspiration and the push to keep moving =)
Posted in Education