It never ceased to amaze me how many lessons I would learn from teaching young children. Not too many years ago, I discovered something quite fascinating about kids that I believe to be universal. I guess I should say, something occurred to me, because I’m sure I didn’t discover it.
Early in my career in public education, I was an elementary school music teacher. I enjoyed my job, traveling from room to room with my guitar in one of the inner city schools of Elizabeth, NJ. The students always greeted me with such enthusiasm, probably because they only saw me once a week, and I wanted to give them something new whenever I came to their room to teach. I wanted them to be exposed to as many experiences of music as they could get in the time we had together. I liked to change things up, and they were always game for something new.
One day, I was showing a video to my students in one of the first grade classes. It was a video with real human characters, as opposed to animated, and right from the get go, the kids, one by one, started to call out, “I’m him!” or “I’m her!”
That really struck me. The first thing they felt compelled to do was stake their claim on who they wanted everyone to see them as being. Every student wanted everyone else to identify them in some way, and that was how they articulated it.
I say they wanted everyone else to know because every declaration was out loud and quite clear. Some, of course, made the same claim to a character as another, and that caused some difficulty before I could reel everyone in.
“NO! I’m him! You’re her!”
“I’m not a GIRL! MR. SCOOOOOTTT!!”
“Whoa! Ok kids. Let’s chill. Relax. We can all just be ourselves today. How’s that sound?”
Children look to anyone, everyone and everything for some kind of guidance on how to be. I realized that teachers are on the front lines on a daily basis. Who do our children want to be? Not “what” do they want to be, but “who” do they want to be?
Learning how to be is sort of like buying a pair of shoes: quite a few people wear your size, but you try on a pair that you think look good. If they feel good, you wear them and break them in with the way you, and you alone, walk. Then, after a while, they truly become yours. No one else can wear them because you’ve got them just the way you like them for your feet.
I thought to myself how it would be nice if my students would point to me and say, “I’m him!” I’ve just got to make sure that I’m as prepared as I can to be a worthy example. Whether I want it or not, kids may look at me and want to try me on for size.
I look at kids now and wonder: How would I fit?
Follow Scott on Twitter- @scotylang