The more things change….
When I was a new teacher, I used to think that my students would just leap to learn what I had to offer, coming to school eager to learn. Ridiculous, as I myself hated almost every day of school from about 5th grade on. But as a newbie, I was sure we would forge a mutual love of everything, especially gerunds (a noun formed from a verb, describing an action, state, or process.)- Encarta Dictionary
I did try, but that proved tricky when they were on shaky ground with even the most basic parts of speech.”What’s a noun, again?”
I have been reading a book about children’s’ ministry in a postmodern world. People who are involved in religious education for children are starting to worry about the time when the reaction to the idea of religion will be, ‘So what?’ They wonder what they will do when that day comes.
I thought, “Ha! Teachers have already been asked that question.” I’ve been teaching for almost two decades and heard it on day 1 and expect to hear it twenty more times.
If they liked me, they listened politely, but it was obvious what they were thinking; their eyes wandered and they snuck peeks at their watches (when kids still wore watches).
Teachers aren’t as exciting as video games and television shows. We don’t talk in the vernacular of the times, we don’t have captions over our heads and, to the chagrin of the student body, we can’t be clicked off for a commercial break or even put on pause.
We are more important. We are teaching them to think, to notice when they are thinking and to notice when they’re not. We are trying to help make connections to their life and the world.
What do they care about? Friends, having as little homework as possible, clothes, and sometimes getting a good job when they grow older. They don’t really connect the whole day-to-day school thing with the latter; they are simply resigned to being made to show up by some guy named John Lynch, who many of them think is the king of New Hampshire.
Sadly, though, some of them do care about some things a great deal. They care about where they can get their next meal or if they should hoard the school lunch and save it for later. They worry about whether dad will start drinking tonight, if mom got out on bail and if the bullies will beat them to their own front door. These youngsters don’t have the energy to think about subject-verb agreement, the periodic table or the proper way to form a cursive letter.
I started my career teaching in a tough middle school in Massachusetts with underprivileged kids. I had to be their cheerleader as their parents were otherwise occupied. I could not assume anything about their absence. That was outside my sphere of influence and in some ways, none of my concern.
I created the excitement and encouragement for the work they did with me.
It was hard because junior high had changed in ways I had not anticipated and for which I was ill-prepared, and not just because we now called it middle school.
I had the extraordinary task of tutoring 8th grade girls who were absent on maternity leave. They were amazed that I had no kids despite being 25. I met kids in gangs who had obligations and could not do homework, so busy was their initiation process. Once that was done, they could focus on school having created an income source for their family. Many of my students were bilingual but had no mastery in any language; having no framework for understanding grammar and syntax unless I created it.
Now a mother of three, I see one thing that kids still care about.
Kids still love stories.
They love to write them and to read them. Those they write contain all their friends’ names and over-endowment of superpowers. More than anything, they love to be read to.
They know a good story when they hear one, and when they do, I have them in the palm of my hand. They lay their heads down on the desk and close their eyes and settle in. When seated on the rug, they lean forward with their mouths slightly parted in anticipation. I have found this to be true whether the child is in the midst of a family crisis, is the bully or the victim or is from a perfectly stable household and it is one of the most gratifying moments in the life of an educator. The very best books even garner a round of applause.
So though I have failed to inspire a love of gerunds, I just remind myself that I am doing some good. When I am reading and they are listening, they are caring about the ending and, unbeknownst to them, they are thinking.