The best kind of teacher is one who doesn't appear to be teaching you at all.
Before my daughter was born I had the privilege to work in a preschool classroom with such a person. Glenna is a skilled Early Childhood Educator with many years of childcare experience under her belt, but she let me work alongside her as more of an equal than an apprentice. It wasn't until she went on leave with an injury that I fully realized the extent of her guidance. It was not through authoritarian lecturing that she imparted the following wisdom, but through kind conversation and a good example. All ECE's are instructed to teach their children in such a manner, but the wisest of teachers apply it to their other childcare providers and parents as well.
Here are the eight concepts that have resonated with me the longest, and it is these which come to mind most often with I ask myself "WWGD?"
1. You should praise the action, not the child. "'Good Boy' is something I say to my dog," Glenna joked, my first week on the job. Rather, something like, "Good work on that block tower" lets a child know exactly where his skills lie and keeps him away from unnecessary labels.
2. You don't have to be loud or emotional to get your point across. I never once saw a child who could get Glenna ruffled, though boy they tried! She was as calm and stoic as a person could be who got sassed, peed on, and screamed at on a daily basis. When you remain calm, what happens after a period of time is that you end up with children who don't want to disappoint you. Because they learn that causing you to react means you have done something especially heinous and they feel bad for upsetting you. On the other end of the spectrum, if you scream and holler all the time, they don't even hear you.
3. You don't have to solve all their problems. In fact, solving
children's problems, especially interpersonal problems, just teaches
them not to rely on their own abilities. Once they get to be four
or five, most children already know the right thing to do and don't need to be lectured, just trusted. Glenna used to have
conversations that sounded something like, "Oh, he hit you did he? And
what did you do? Do you think that was the right thing? What should you
do now? Okay, go ahead!" And then she would send the child back to take responsibility without ever having to shout or apply punishment.
This kind of mediation is one that requires a lot of grace and
skill to pull off successfully, and it comes hand in hand with the previous tip.
4. You don't need to be fast or agile to work with children. Because of her medical issues, at that point in time Glenna wasn't as mobile as she would have like to be. Sure, it's convenient to be able to scoop a 40 pound screaming, stubborn child up under your arm and place him where you want him to be. But there is also a lot to be said about getting "hands off" from time to time. Instead of running after children, Glenna had an uncanny ability to beckon them over with a few quiet, well thought out words. While most childcare workers will tell you that you need to squat down on the floor to reach children at their own level, Glenna taught me that it's more important to lower your mindset to their level to get a greater understanding of what they're thinking.
5. You need to learn to improvise, and throw away any need for perfection. Glenna wore an upside down coat for pants one day when the weather suddenly turned cold. (And I respect her enough I won't post a photo.) The kids found it hilarious, and it was a good example for them of putting personal needs ahead of other people's opinions.
It was Glenna who taught me to improvise and sing out loud all the time, even if it's made up. Kids don't care if it's a real song. They don't care if it rhymes or if it has more than five words. Improvising gives kids permission to express themselves creatively in the same way.
6. You can never have too many hobbies. Glenna has tremendous skill and patience in many creative pursuits, from baking to embroidery to paper crafting. While people will all have different interests, of course, having a passion for any personal hobby will help keep you from losing yourself amongst the busyness and stress of raising children. Many moms and childcare workers just give and give of themselves and forget to pursue any interests of their own, until one day they hit a tipping point and have an identity crisis.
7. Cherish your relationships while they last. Your kids won't stay kids, and you won't be around forever yourself. Neither will your own parents. Life is too short to sweat small stuff or harbour grudges, so end each day on a peaceful note.
8. You can do everything right and sometimes things still go wrong. Accepting that children will ultimately make their own choices is one of the best gifts you can give them. What they choose to do with that gift is up to them, and it's not necessarily a reflection on how you raised them.
Thanks, Glenna! Perhaps I'll have the good fortune to work with you again someday, and if not, I hope I can pay it forward.
Author's note: I have worked with a lot of great people. This post isn't meant to undervalue their skill or influence; I simply chose one person who was able to connect with me in a way I was particularly receptive to.