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“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” – Aristotle
Teachers, have you thought about this challenge? How will you educate the heart this year?
Childhood – especially the middle school years – can seem like a crazy-making manic time for kids. One minute they’re sweet young and innocent, most interested in their lunchbox design and PBS Kids, the next minute they’ve morphed into some sort of gangly, overgrown version of their elementary selves, obsessed with being away from their parents, in constant contact with their friends, and scouring Instagram for the latest trends and desperate to keep up. Teenagers, so desperate to be mature, try on new styles, trends, and personas in their attempts at growing up quickly. Watching my middle school students evolve over the course of a school year crystallizes my belief that it’s all part of the process of life.
I remember one of my 8th grade students who was typically a nice, ‘normal’ type of kid- not a trouble maker, well-liked, quiet in class. Over the course of a week, he started acting out – being a bit disruptive, more aggressive, and walked with a bit of swagger. My teaching partner and I started noticing and became concerned. When we approached him, he smiled and said, “Oh, no worries – I’m just trying something new.” And sure enough, after a few weeks, he was back to his old self.
I wonder what happens to this urgency when we hit adulthood. The desperation seems to be replaced with fear, the excitement with sadness, the hopefulness with complacency. When adults ‘try something new’ we often are accused of having a mid-life crisis; it’s no wonder that so many retreat back into their old habits, more content with the familiar than the unknown. Where is the creativity that so absolutely bursts out of a child, only to be smothered by so many logical plans in adulthood? Does it get buried deep in our souls, or does it simply evaporate in our quest for the ‘American dream’?
If you think back to your middle school years, can you remember this urgency? Did you move from one trend to the next, constantly asserting your independence at any cost? Were you most interested in listening to what your friends said (because they totally understand what it’s like to be a kid) and ignoring every adult, well meaning or not, who tried to teach you so you didn’t have to learn it “the hard way”?
I know I was that kid, and when I look back, the teachers and adults I most remember are the ones that captured my heart first. They were the ones who looked me in the eye, knowing that my painfully shy self was mustering up the courage of a queen to ask them for help. They were the ones who understood when I just couldn’t dissect that frog, or was in tears when I lost my retainer in the lunch room. They were the adults who knew a little about the music I liked to listen to, and always had the right kind of chips and salsa and MTV when I needed a place to just be. They were the ones who, 25 years later, still remembered what Jenny had to say when even she flunked that 8th grade English test.
So teachers, I challenge you as we head back to school. Instead of thinking of curriculum first, please think of kids first. Remember that they are trying on new aspects of themselves all the time. Remember that they are still learning, that they want to do well, and that it is our job to serve their needs in the best way we can. Please remember that if you can’t capture their heart, you’ll struggle all year to capture their mind. And above all else, find some way every day to show them a piece of you – to let them know that your heart is in this incredibly challenging, at times frustrating and always ridiculously amazing choice you made to become a teacher.