“I’m Him!”: Thoughts on being an example to children

04It 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.

“I’m him!”

“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

A Picasso underneath

picassoBack in the day when l was an elementary school music teacher, I was continually stunned at how much content and information children can take in. I was always underestimating what the kids could do and comprehend. I would be standing up there talking to the class, and I would just have to stop.

It was like I could almost smell the smoke from the spinning gears inside their little brains. I would stop and look out and stare back at them for a moment.

“What did I just say?” I would ask, expecting no one to be with me at all.

To my surprise, virtually every hand would raise. They had all been listening. They had all been with me. They were simply taking in all of what I was giving them, downloading the information like some pint-sized PC.

There’s no accounting for what might fascinate one child and bore another.  Sometimes it makes no sense why a particular student will take to a certain book or piece of music, or develop a passion for a certain sport, or a love for cars. They just seem to be available at a particular time. Kids are open-minded. And I mean that in the most wonderful sense.

I’m not talking “open minded” as in an I see your point of view, but I’ve got my own so, thanks, but no thanks kind of way. I mean, children are canvases that are being painted on by many different artists in many different ways, most of whom don’t even realize they’re painting, and the children just soak up all the paint.

The brush strokes stay. They soak in, and it’s not only that impressions are formed, lasting portraits are painted, sometimes masterpieces, sometimes devastating failures.  Every detail is permanent. You may be able to cover over the surface, but the details are underneath the layers for a lifetime.

I love watching that show on PBS where people find old paintings in their attics or garages, and they bring them to this guy to tell them about what they’ve had under their noses all this time without knowing it.

On occasion, it turns out the home owners have a painting that seems pretty much worthless hanging in their living room. It’s like dogs playing Texas Hold’em or something, but that’s only the top layer. It turns out, when they take a look a bit deeper, they find that someone, perhaps several people, have been painting over other paintings on this canvas.  After about three layers or so have been taken away, the experts discover a lost Picasso, and it’s worth some ridiculous amount of money.

I’m not suggesting that a child’s value or worth is measured monetarily, but that there are layers upon layers of art that go into what a child becomes. Sometimes the more valuable looking art may be masked by the abusive father or the mother who’s never home to tuck them in, or the older brother who goes to prison way too young.

All of these things paint the canvas, and all of the paint is permanent.

Dig a little deeper and you just might find the priceless treasure you never knew existed.