Sunday, January 25, 2009

If We Nourish, Kids Will Flourish

So the big question in my mind these days is: What are the necessary ingredients for kids to flourish? I came up with a rhyme ( hey! I teach Kindergarten, I can't help it) and I think that it's relevant and appropriate. If we nourish, kids will flourish. Sounds pretty basic, and definitely attainable until we realize the immense complexities and domains in which we must nourish kids.

The job description seems daunting at times. If you look at any elementary classroom, you will find a group of kids whose basic needs, such as adequate food, medical and dental care, weather-appropriate clothing, and shelter needs are met. In contrast, you will find kids who come to school each day, hurting because they have never been to the dentist, cold, hot or otherwise uncomfortable because of inappropriate clothing. They may be tired, because they aren't falling asleep at night, or irritable, because they ran out of hot water that morning and had a cold shower as they woke from their night's rest. On any given day you might have a child having a meltdown outside the classroom door because, for some reason, that morning has not gone well due to a bad dream, argument with a parent or sibling, or some other emotional interaction. Many people think that a teacher's responsibility is to teach right? A teacher should be able to walk in , lessons ready and teach. But the real job description, perhaps part of the reason for high teacher turnover, is immense. We are to care for a child across all domains: intellectual, emotional, social, physical and psychological. This sounds like the job of a superhero. And perhaps at times, teachers are.

I have begun many of my days at school trying to help a child regulate emotions. Although the moment that child hits my door I am required to be teaching them the standards, I first must recognize the child's emotional state and its impact on their learning( and everyone around them for that matter). Countless mornings I have been mother, caretaker, counselor, and nurse as kids come to school disoriented, upset and not especially ready to learn.

A recent episode comes to mind.

Susie, ( not her real name of course) is outside the classroom with her older sister. Susie does not want to come into the classroom and is clinging to her sister, making her sister late for class. Although my job is to make sure all 20 students are beginning their morning work after completing the routines of putting their things away, I must stop and take care of Susie. I spend at least 10 minutes coaxing Susie into the classroom talking to her about her "bad morning" as she describes it. I hear about how she had a bad dream last night as she clings to me saying, " I just want to stay with you." She tells me about the dream where mosquitoes were eating her. I help walk her through the process of understanding that dreams are not real and that we can tell ourselves to change our thoughts when we get stuck thinking of something unpleasant. I tell her to think of something she "wants" to think of, something that calms her and makes her feel happy. I see a calm come over her as she realizes she can say "stop" to her upsetting thoughts. After 5 more minutes of trailing me around the classroom, clinging to my side, Susie is ready to get to work and I can leave her at her table. Meanwhile 19 other children need me.

Ironically, Susie is from an upper middle class family who seems to have the means to care for their children, at least materially. Susie falls asleep each night to her television and is often banished to her room for misbehavior. She has older siblings she describes as "mean to her" and a parent who thinks that as a teacher I need to "focus less on her." Although I have attempted to enlist the support of her parents, I am on my own in helping this child. Her parent cannot handle the beacon of truth that I shed on the situation. So I must keep on, doing what I can, without the support that could make all the difference. I am doing my best to help Susie flourish by nourishing her the best I can.

I am not a superhero, but a teacher whose mission is to instill a love for learning and a belief that a child can achieve anything he or she sets out to accomplish. I love the wonderful year of Kindergarten. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, but the rewards are immense. Now only if I had superpowers.

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