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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

The Art of Teaching Children: Didactic Humility and Directiveness: DAY 4

How are we as adults – and as parents and teachers especially – responsible for forming and shaping children through our communication and interaction with them?

Last week we discussed how children become more and more apathetic the older they get. But what if we reverse the process and instead of looking at the human beings children grow up to become, look at the adults they exist as today? We might ask ourselves: what happened in that person’s childhood that made them the way they are today? For example: why do people become emotionally crippled, angry, fearful, fake or untrustworthy? Is it simply in their nature? Is it their parents fault and what role do we as teachers play?

I recently listened to an interview from Eqafe where a man shares his experiences with how he as a child was exposed to a teacher’s aggressive and loud behavior and how it affected him for his entirely life to the point where he had an extensive fear of conflict. He describes how he had never in his life experienced such behavior before and because of that it literally shook him to his core. The interview is called Facing yourself in the Face of Arguments

I am sure many of us can relate to this, the experience of hearing and seeing an adult exploding in anger for the first time. I remember for example how I would play with something or do something without knowing or realizing that I was not supposed to do that and then when I was told off by an adult I was completely shocked and was shaking inside. But one of the things that boy in the interview experienced was how what he had previously experienced as a ‘safe-zone’, the class-room, suddenly was now not safe anymore and never was again from that moment onwards. And all of this because of one incident where one teacher lost her cool and started yelling and screaming for the children of the class to shut up. Now – obviously it is not all children that suffer livelong traumas from such experiences. Some children are born into violent and hazardous environments from the get-go. Some might develop a ‘tougher skin’ when it comes to arguments and yelling. But the fact of the matter is that we as teacher can and do have a tremendous impact on the children we teach, even with moments we’d brush off as insignificant. Because for the child, this is not just one moment in a long row of moments upon moments, no – for the child, this moment is part of his or her introduction into the world. Everything the child sees, gives them a clue about how the world works and how human beings work, and what standards human beings set for their interaction with each other, what is okay to do and say and what is not.

Being a new teacher, something that I’ve found to be difficult is how to communicate with all the children in a way that is the most supportive to them. I have from the beginning been very aware of being very gentle and patient and have therefore surprised me that with some of the children, the response I’m getting from them suggests that I’m not being patient or gentle enough. This is something that most predominantly comes through when the children are writing and make a mistake. A general rule I’ve learned from textbooks and other teachers is that up to around the beginning of the second grade one does not correct the children when the misspell the words or if they flip the words around. From there one is then supposed to require more and more accuracy from the child which obviously mean that one has to correct them when they’ve made a mistake. Now this is something I am acutely working with at the moment in terms of fine-tuning how I communicate with the children about making a mistake. I can also see that there are differences in their responses and reactions. As such I can’t decide upon a streamlined cookie-cutter model of how to approach children. And I can see how this must be even more difficult if one works in classrooms of for example thirty children. So some of the children for example can’t even handle if I suggest that something might be different. And my ‘handle’ I mean that they instantly react and for example say: “I know I know…” or they say they know what the correct answer is even when they don’t. This suggests to me that they’re self-conscious but also that this point is one where the child has started to develop an ego. It also happens more with the older children – they don’t react as much to me, but more invert it onto themselves. I explain to them that no one is expecting for them to be perfect at it and that this is why I am there to assist them to learn. I explain to them that I understand how it must be frustrating because it can feel like they’re stepping back because this language is new to them. I explain to them how I experience the same problems as I am busy learning Swedish and how it can be frustrating. I explain to the oldest children how they might have to make the same mistake over and over until they get it and that that is simply how it is and nothing unnatural considering how they are used to another language’s grammar and pronunciation. But even when I explain all of this it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to them.

Then there are other children, especially the younger, where they react in more like a shock-type of reaction. This is especially where I see that I can make a difference through carefully being aware of how I speak, act, move and interact with the children. One example was when I was teaching one of the younger children some writing. He was sitting with a sheet of exercises and when I looked to check, a word was misspelled. So I say: “Hey!” From my perspective it was a ‘friendly/funny’ type of ‘hey’ but he jumped in his seat and looked scared, so I understood that I have to be very careful with how I address the point of correcting the children. But it is most certainly a balancing act because at the same time, I’ve also in some instances found myself going too far in the ‘friend-zone’ and actually did not correct a miss-spelled world simply to not upset the child. That is obviously also doing the child a disservice. Because for one I was lying to the child and telling them that a result was correct when it was not. Just consider how that type of behavior will shape a person. Secondly I did it to spare their feelings but also so that I did not have to be the bad guy. Too bad that their ability to spell correctly was jeopardized in the process just because I did not want to hurt their feelings. So – I told them and I simply said it straight up and direct, yet with a gentle tonality in my voice: “try and look at this word, there’s one letter that’s not accurate, do you see which one it is?”

Another adult recently told me when I discussed all of this with them that they as a child hated when the adult would pretend not to know the answer deliberately and then ask the child. Lol – I even remember that myself. But now I do it. I’ve found it to be a very effective method to get the child to open up, is to act like I don’t know something. This works well for example if I’m sitting far away or if I’m seeing their exercise upside down, because then I ‘can’t see it’ and it makes it legitimate why I would ask without pretending not to know something that we both know that I know. Lol. But after this conversation I’ve been looking at other ways I can allow the child to open up the information for itself without actually lying to the child or being fake – because I surely remember how frustrating it was that adults were constantly being fake. It taught me that to survive in this world, I too had to be fake. So I’m working with this point daily. And in some ways I am fortunate because I have children in all the different age groups and all the different levels – so I really can only take each lesson at a time and see slowly but surely what works.

The theory of learning is called didactics. In other words didactics is about how information is best taught by the teacher. I’ve always found didactics to be significantly boring – lol – but I’m starting to see why it is such a big field in education and pedagogy at the moment. Because at the end of the day, the textbooks can be marvelous (which is also a form of didactic in itself) but if the teacher isn’t able to properly communicate the information to the child in an absorbable way, then the textbook will be useless. And we can even flip it around and say that everything that happens in a child’s life has a didactic effect on it, because the child’s brain is busy computing and processing information to develop a way to live and function in the world based on an understanding of how the world works. What this means is that a child is in a position of learning in every moment of every breath. When it hears its parents fighting it is learning about the nature of relationships and the dynamics between men and women. When it hears its mother manipulate it into doing something using candy as bribery it is learning about how people can manipulate each other and be manipulated. When the teacher is impatient and say: “no, that’s wrong!”, perhaps the child interprets that as a huge mistake and end up fearing reading and writing to the point of becoming dyslexic because of it.

As such – I see that my responsibility as a teacher goes beyond the facilitation of teaching children a language. Because I am teaching them about the world in every moment. When I rush to catch my bus, I teach them about time. This actually happened. I was teaching one of the older kids and the previous time I had been late and had to wait for the bus for thirty minutes which meant that I had to be late at the next schools I had to go to. So this time I wanted to make sure I got the bus. Since my lesson is only thirty minutes I don’t have a lot of ‘quality time’ with the children and this particular girl is one of the children who absolutely loves it when I come – so I see that I have to be absolutely directive about what I fill those thirty precious moments with. This time I was stressed, I was constantly looking at the clock and I was not fully present giving her all my attention. I finally ended up running to the bus, after which I had to stand and wait in the cold for five minutes because I had been too early. So the next time I went there, I had decided to not look at the clock and to immerse myself fully in the lesson and to simply sit relaxed and do the work. But what happened was that when the lesson started the girl came rushing in guns blazing and this time she was in a state of stress and rush the entire lesson and was worried about me catching my bus.

So I learned an important lesson about the impressionability of children and how humble and self-aware we have to be as teachers, because children are far more observant and absorptive than we realize. The same goes for making sarcastic and ironic jokes. Some adults do it a lot and some children, like me, simply don’t get it. I mean I often still don’t get it. And I find that adults using sarcasm on children are a really cheap trick to claim intellectual superiority – something that is completely unnecessary and that the adult most likely picked up from other adults when they were a child themselves.

My goal, specifically when it comes to teaching the children to write, is to do it in a way where I don’t have to be fake and where I can stand as a pillar of support in assisting and supporting them to be able to write accurately to whatever level they are on. My goal is also to work with each child at an individual level based on where that child is. Here it is also vital to mention that I often meet the children in a thirty minute lesson squeezed in between other lessons or in a lunch break or after school. Therefore there can be many external factors as to why the child might have difficulty concentrating or be motivated. So therefore I also have a goal to make the lessons fun and enjoyable – because that is what I would want if it was me who had to learn a new language every Thursday in my lunch break. And I see that it can be fun – and that requires a creative surplus in me in terms of understanding what exactly a child finds fun. Lol – so that’s an entirely new phase of discovery that I’ve got yet to embark upon. For now I am focusing on specifying and directing my voice tonality, coordinate my movements and to find the right works to use when I communicate with the children, so that they learn what I teach and I can make myself a better teacher based on their feedback and responses.

Thanks for reading. See you next time. Questions and comments are welcome.

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