When My Students Became My Teachers

Children are not usually thought of as wise or full of knowledge.

In fact, they are often seen as quite the opposite. They are “vessels waiting to be filled” with all the information adults around them can offer.

I chose to become a teacher knowing this was the widely held theory, but knowing there was more to it than that.

Children are anxious to learn new things and hear about the world around them, but they also have built in curiosity, so surely they would come to school with something in the bank already. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I was the person who would teach children all they needed to know.

What I didn’t expect when I was just beginning was how much THEY would teach me.

My first year of teaching was unbelievably difficult.

It was overwhelming, emotionally draining and intense beyond anything I had ever known. I was learning a new philosophy of teaching I had never practiced, which was difficult to wrap my head around. I was the only elementary level teacher at my site (the rest of the classrooms were at the preschool level).

I was teaching two half-day kindergarten classes filled with wide-eyed kids, depending on me for all the answers to life itself.

Photo courtesy of free-kindergarten-activities.com
Photo courtesy of free-kindergarten-activities.com

All of this, while trying to find my way through the “first-year teacher” blues. It was filled with so many tears and questions about what I had gotten myself into. It was also filled with more love and hugs from the students than I ever expected.

The parents were very positive and supportive as well. Knowing I was a first year teacher, they offered their time and their praise often. They also kept bringing their kids back every day, which was a vote of confidence that always helped. By the end of the year I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Over the summer, I worked hard to overcome the trauma and decided to come back for another round the next year. By the end of my second year, I was hooked.

The hard times were hard for sure, but the love and positivity coming from the children was simply enough to make the fight worth fighting.

By my third year of teaching, I was working with the superintendent, with whom I had begun my teaching journey, but we were in a different location and we were a brand NEW school. This, as it turned out, would be the year that my eyes were opened to the magic of teaching young children.

We started the school with only 35 students split between two multi-grade classrooms. My task was to teach 1st and 2nd graders in a chapel space that had to be transformed into a classroom space. I could only use the outer edges of the room and had to deconstruct the “classroom” every weekend for the weekend services (challenges…never a dull moment to be sure).

Even in the face of such seemingly defeating circumstances, the students came into the makeshift classroom – and with them came so much innocence and genuine, untouched love for life. They were excited to learn new things and they were fearless in many ways that adults are not.

It is a fearlessness that allows for so many possibilities and so many diverse learning experiences. They showed a true openness to whatever was being taught.

They were simply positive forces of nature.

Much of what was going to be presented in the classroom I had already solved for myself. I came up with simple answers that took only a few minutes of thought and a quick reach into my academic experiences.

When these amazing, vibrant minds looked at these problems, they came up with a wide range of solutions, solutions that most adults would have overlooked while seeking out the straight forward solution (we adults just want to get it done and move on, right?).

The way children processed these problems was so different than the way I thought things through. They were amazing to watch. It made me take a step back and try to see things from a different perspective.

Photo courtesy of www.easyreadsystem.com
Photo courtesy of www.easyreadsystem.com

It helped me to see that solutions can come in many different forms and that an innocent view point can open up the way you solve problems. It also has a way of keeping you young at heart.

Many students have come through my classroom door over the years, but that year was one of the most unique experiences I have had to date. I have always loved the students in my classes, but I was more emotionally attached to that group of kids.

Specifically because they were the first students of mine to lead me to understand why I love teaching and why I love working with kids.

Young children have simple, straight forward answers for things. They don’t think first of what others are going to think of their opinions, they just give them willingly.

They don’t try to fit a problem into a formula (because they don’t know too many formulas yet) they just look for ways to find an answer.

Young kids see what is around them and they decide how they fit into that situation or decide that they don’t and find another one. They argue with their “best friends” and tell them they are not friends anymore and then ten minutes later are playing and giggling together again.

Photo courtesy of ableplay.org
Photo courtesy of ableplay.org

These young human beings walk through my classroom door every morning with a smile on their face (well, most mornings, anyway), an eagerness to learn something new, a hope for friends to play with and a big heart full of love for anyone who will give them love in return.

Most of their problems are easily solved (some with just a smile or a hug from the person lucky enough to be their teacher ) and their sadness is usually temporary, too. They simply revel in the joys of the day and they find excitement in the new things they encounter. All of these are things that I had forgotten to do in my daily adult life.

There is magic in being exposed to this on a daily basis. You begin to look at life through their eyes and the magic suddenly becomes possible again…

….if only for the hours that you spend inside those four walls of the classroom, where reality can be suspended for a short time and wonder can rise again to the surface.

So many times we look at young children and see someone who couldn’t possibly know anything about how life works.

In reality, they may know more about the joys in life than all of us serious adults combined.

Photo courtesy of staff.rockwood.k12.mo.us
Photo courtesy of staff.rockwood.k12.mo.us

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