When I was a kid I was terrified of bees. Add tornadoes and getting left in a store after closing time and you have my top 3 fears as a child.
Never once was I fearful that I wouldn’t be allowed to return home after visiting my grandparents in their country. Never once was I scared that people would come and take my parents away. Never once was I terrified of getting taunted, bullied, beat up or shot because of my religion. Or culture. Or skin color. Or who I was in love with. Or the clothing I was wearing. Never.
But these are the fears that our children have today. The children I teach, the children you may teach, your own children, the children in schools throughout our country. And many adults, as well. And these fears have magnified tremendously lately. As a teacher, it’s my job to acknowledge what my students are feeling, listen to them, talk with them, comfort them and provide a safe space for them to feel loved and accepted. I can’t imagine doing anything less.
But it’s also my job to empower my students. Yes, they are five and six years old. Are we talking about immigration laws, our government system, electoral votes and checks and balances in our classroom? No. In my kindergarten class we are talking about empathy, kindness, collaboration and being a good person. I am teaching harder than ever about how important it is to be accepting, to have empathy and to be kind. I am teaching that it’s never okay to remain silent when you feel strongly about something. I am teaching the importance of making your voice heard. And the importance of listening to others’ voices.
As I tend to do, I’ve reached for books over the past month as my comfort and my light. My professional mentors reminded me of what’s important, what’s necessary and what I must do as a teacher. My teaching must go beyond one to one match, directionality and making connections. Way beyond.
My children’s authors, once again, gave us those anchors in the classroom to come together as a community, to laugh, to cry, to learn about feelings, to be together and to think about how we are as people in the world. Mo Willems reminded us about the importance of empathy with Leonardo, the Terrible Monster. We read Peaceful Piggies and learned what we can do when we are feeling sad, angry or frustrated. Todd Parr’s The Peace Book, Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are, Kathryn Otoshi’s One and Elephant and Piggie connected us, grounded us and reminded us of what is important. We read and reread Bret Baumgarten and Kathryn Otoshi’s Beautiful Hands and created a mural to share our class name, Team Love, and vision of Kindergarten Teamwork.
As I regroup over winter break and begin to think about my teaching in January, this is what will continue to guide me – children’s books and authors who serve as mirrors and windows for my kids and our classroom, as well as responsive teaching to what I see and hear every day in the classroom. Yes, the curriculum guides, pacing guides and standards are important, but I feel a much more urgent need to teach empathy, compassion, flexibility, perseverance and simply – how to be a good person.
Because the world needs good people.
Now more than ever.
I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place.