Their little voices banter back and forth as I flit from desk to desk. Like a mother robin tending her young. I duck my head in and out, gauging the activity. Monitoring the learning. Watching that things are progressing. Teacher stuff. They, my little brood, are discussing something- and there seems to be a disagreement that is arising.
“So-and-so thinks he’s the teacher,” a little voice says accusingly. He waits for me to pounce on the unsuspecting little rogue. Setting paths straight which have gone awry. The accused says nothing in his defence.
I do know what is meant here: my role is the teacher character. Their function is to be the student. This is how it works in school- someone has to be assigned the role of facilitator or learning will become haphazard. And someone has to be on the receiving end or the endeavor will be pointless.
Won’t it? That’s certainly what is often thought.
I lean down, trying to process my thoughts quickly. On the spot. My answer: to explain that we are both teacher and learner in this classroom. Even Mrs. Gard.
How easy it is to forget this truth. The reality is we are always learning. And we are not always needing a teacher so as to engage that process. And true enough: there will be times that my experience will be such that I can share in my knowledge and thus “teach” the others in my life. This shift between teacher and learner is fluid. It is hard, at times, to know where one begins and the other ends. Even my thesis advisor reminds me of this in her latest email: that in graduate school, I am to be simultaneously both a learner and teacher. Of course. We state this in theory, but I often wonder whether we as adults make this a concerted practice. To what extent do we truly believe that our children teach us?
In thinking about this, I have compiled a list of some things I have learned from my students. In no order of significance:
• The rules to the game jacks
• Sign language
• How to dance with inhibition
• How to listen
• The best way to position a cup of juice, carton of chocolate milk or a water bottle so that it will indefinitely fall to the floor and make a giant puddle
• The characters on Mario
• How cats get fixed
• That certain words must never be rhymed unless one wants to live with the consequences
• That certain words have more than one meaning, depending on your family upbringing
• How to care for children who’ve witnessed abuse
• What sand sounds like
• How not to colour inside the lines
• Why hugs are important
• That grief can be felt in the very young
• Why teachers must be, as much as is possible, a stand-in for Mom, or Dad or Grandma or any other viable guardian because kids need someone they can count on. And teachers are certainly in a great position to be all that and then some.
I am ever the learner. Some days, I feel the burden of such overwhelms me. Great is the responsibility of needing to learn. To know. To find understanding. To become more aware. And huge is the expectation to learn everything I must know. Even in compiling a list such as I have above, I am in awe of what I do not know about my Splendid Seven:
• What fears they have of starting Grade 1?
• Why children sweat so much, even at the tender age of 6?
• How come they wipe their noses on their shirts?
• What details of their morning I am missing, leading back to before they got on the bus?
• What home is really like?
• Their greatest hope in life
• Their truest thoughts about me: the good, the bad and the downright ugly
• What they feel like when they are alone
• What they wonder about growing older
• Why they pick their scabs
I am ever the learner. But I am also a teacher. Two worlds collide even as a perfect collusion is formed.
Their little voices banter back and forth as I flit from desk to desk. Like a young robin looking up from the safety of the nest. I am five again. Curious and full of wonder.
And I am ready to fly.