Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Human Becomings

I'm not sure why I decided I want to write about this, but the idea was tugging at me for a while, and today when the sentences started formulating themselves in my head I decided maybe I should sit down and sketch out my thoughts in some form of semi-cohesive text.

How I wish I could open up a door into possibly the deepest section of my emotional mind so that all of you could glimpse how I really feel about my job... I doubt anything I write here could possibly give over the exact feelings and meanings I want to portray, but I'll try anyway, so that perhaps at least one person will walk away from this post with a newfound appreciation for what I do.

Every job has its perks, its negative points, its benefits, and its acutely annoying aspects, but some jobs are innately more gratifying than others. I suppose it's a matter of opinion and personal taste, but there's a reason why so many teachers describe their jobs as intensely rewarding and emotionally satisfying, while most office personnel do not. There's something about watching children's eyes light up in understanding, about feeling little shoulders ease under a loving touch, about listening to laughter wafting out of brightly-lit classrooms, that almost can't be described in any other language than love.

I know a lot of you reading this are teachers and appreciate exactly what I'm saying. So big deal, Corner, what's the chiddush here? Why are you making it sound like you are different than any other teacher out there? Maybe it's just because as unappreciated and bashed the teaching profession is, there is still something glorious about saying you teach 10th grade Chumash, or 12th grade Bio, or even 6th grade Tefilla. But when you tell people you teach Kindergarten, most look at you, almost struggle to conceal the sympathy in their eyes, and comment, "Oh really? you enjoy it?"

Are you kidding? Do I enjoy it?

It's my inspiration. My air. My life right now. I may be an overly passionate soul in most aspects of my life, but when I talk about my job, I feel such a pride, such a wonder, such a privilege to be able to carry out this amazing responsibility.

So many people consider early childhood education as a babysitting service. Parents drop their little ones off at school, run errands, go to work, take care of the real world while some Morahs keep an eye on the kids that "can't even read yet so how can they be learning...?" Our children are more than just learning--they're drinking up every word that's uttered within their earshot, putting words to things they're not even able to consciously understand yet, growing in self-awareness and self-worth, and building the foundations of love for learning that will be the cornerstone of every other lesson they'll ever learn for the rest of their lives.

The thrill of watching a little girl finally realize that the little black characters on the pages of books really mean something is simply breathtaking...As is watching from afar as a child with behavioral difficulties finally works out her own problem without resorting to hitting...As is hearing the exclamation of delight from the little one who runs by in the playground, legs pumping, heart soaring, flying by with nothing to anchor her to the ground...As is the glow on the face of the child who proudly holds up her clay masterpiece, explaining, "Morah, I made this for you..."

The vitality of life that permeates every square inch of my classroom is other-worldly. It is there that children develop their essences, their dreams, their pride in themselves, their life skills, their middos, their love of learning. We may not teach the difference between Rashi and Ramban, but we can help them discern the subtle differences between speaking nicely and hurting feelings. My girls do not yet understand how to add or subtract, or anything about the U.S. government, but they do know that they live in a community of chessed and middos and want to emulate those they see around them. Mitzva notes are not just a bribe; they impart to our children that not a single good deed goes unnoticed, that each mitzva is recorded, cherished, held close, rewarded. Creative play is not just a time filler; it's a forum for children to learn consequences of thier actions, how to interact properly and successfully with their peers, how to be mevater and be patient and be kind. To those who wonder what exactly their children are learning besides for the weekly Parsha, I ask, "What are they not learning...?" Pre-school is the workshop where children develop the tools they need to succeed in grade school, and more importantly, in life...

Maybe now you can see why I so adore what I do. There's no question about it--It's a physically draining, emotionally taxing, and sometimes very frustrating job, but I can't imagine another I'd rather be doing right now.

Seeing that life, that joy, that sheer bliss of being and living and learning and growing helps me strive to be and live and learn and grow myself. It's in my classroom that I learn anew how to be mevater and be patient and be kind. It's not just my students that are learning; I am taught countless lessons as well every single day.

So when those people who don't appreciate my achrayus look at me in pity, almost as if I'm taking care of something distasteful, I warm myself up with the knowledge that I'm making a difference in 22 different worlds...and 22 different future families of children who will comprise the next generation of Klal Yisrael...

My girls are each stunning jewels. And I have the privilege and the honor of helping make that first cut into the faces of those jewels so that at the end of 14 years of schooling, those same jewels emerge from the school system as refined, happy, polished, proud daughters of our King.

The director of my school has a sign in her office:

"Children are not human beings; they are human becomings."

And I have the opportunity to nurture those precious becomings...

My beautiful girls.


Ezzie said...

That was amazing.

My father-in-law (himself a brilliant educator) always laments that we "shouldn't send our children to school, it will ruin them". Generally, he's right - too many teachers don't care enough, don't enjoy it enough, don't realize the effect they have on the lifelong maturation of a child. It never ceases to escape my notice that my parents are generally most thankful about the (excellent) teachers I had in Nursery, Pre-K, in K, in 1st grade. The more teachers who care, who love what they're doing, who know what they're doing - the better off we'll all be.

pobody's nerfect. said...

i love that you write the same way you speak.
believe me dear, the parents of your precious becomings can tell how much love they're getting in school...
i'd write more, cuz this is lame, but i'm tired and just in awe of your writing. maybe another time.
keep it up, gelatinous monster who reigns over the sesame seed panini.

Scraps said...

Wow. If ever I saw a case for early childhood education, this is it. The truth is, I actually have one other friend who also teaches kindergarten and loves her job, so I know it's not just you. But halevai every teacher of small children should have your viewpoint and attitude towards the precious neshamot they're nurturing.

Not to mention, you're awfully lucky to have a job you love so much. :)

halfshared said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Dreamer said...

I always admired those who were able to teach kindergarten kids. I am just not cut out for that. Even teaching middle school for a couple of years was really difficult for me.
I once sat in on a kindergarten class my friend taught. It was one of the most unbelievable classes I've ever been in.
I truly respect those people who have the patience to teach these precious youngsters.
Me? I'll stick with high school. Hormones and all, it's still simpler.

bad4shidduchim said...

As soon as I have kids you can handle their schooling. That was wonderful. Your just the sort of teacher we need more of.

SJ said...

Inspiring and beautifully expressed. Thank you.

yingerman said...

I think soul molders are the most underpaid job there is,
In a perfect world (sigh)

David_on_the_Lake said...

That was soo readable and enjoyable and a window into the deepest part of your emotional mind.

That age is just the sweetest, most rewarding age..(although I remember nothing from it..)

the apple said...

You are obviously so committed to these children. I really admire you. They are lucky to have you as their teacher.

(And if I ever said anything belittling about your job or talked in a disdainful tone, I apologize!)

Juggling Frogs said...

I'm so glad Ezzie shared the link to this beautiful article. Thank you for writing it.

I forwarded your post to our kindergarten teachers.

May your enthusiasm and satisfaction only grow over the years.

Anon101 said...

I teach an adorable group of similar age boys who are so full of life and drink up every work and action so know exactly what you are going on about! But it is also scary how much influence one has, one has to be so careful how one speaks to the other members of staff too. (Actually what with the current shidduch crisis and everything perhaps (they say it wil just get worse) we should get together and start pairing them off :)

Madd Hatter said...

Wow. That was beautiful. The children you teach are really lucky. I taught kindergarden at one point, and I loved the kids, but I don't think I ever approached the level of dedication and appreciation you have. Kudos:)

corner point said...

I almost can't get over this...13 posts already? I just posted last night! And so many new visitors--welcome everybody! I'm becoming a very happy person :-)

Thank you! A) for the comment, B) for featuring me in your roundup! I was so not even half expecting something as wonderful as that, and I am a very very very happy individual right now. Thanks for finding me and for publicizing my stuff!

Gosh, I speak like that? How awfully poetic and mushy...
But thank's good to hear that some out there appreciate all we do...

Thank you!
And you're so right about loving what you do...I wouldn't last 3 hours at a desk job, and I tried it once, so I have the liberty to say that :-P.

Wow...thank you...That is the ultimate compliment...
But I can tell you one thing; we are definitely not in this for the money!!

I've worked with teenagers, and I know about that hormone stuff, but I hear what you're saying. I didn't think I'd enjoy little kids this much, but Hashem is so very good to me...

Thank you. I'll gladly take yours when the time comes (if I'm still teaching that is...)

Thank you!

Definitely. Wish everyone else would think so so that they'd do something about it...

A window? Shuks, I intended to open the door...
But thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed.

Thank you!
And don't worry, I don't think you did :-)

Thank you and amen!

Oh, yes...just this morning I realized I forgot to stress the importance of being careful what we say around the kids...
And that's an idea...I'm sure the crisis situation is not far from thiking such things... :-/

Much thanks!

Anonymous said...

do you teach around the block from my house? you sound just like my kids teacher! kol hakavod to you

corner point said...

Thanks, and no, I don't :-)
It'd be nice to meet another kidred spirit, though

Chana said...

You reminded me of something I once wrote, so I figured I'll respond with that piece.


My school has a graduation requirement of 60 hours of community service, so I'm volunteering at Kohl Children's Museum. It's a beautiful place, colorful, vibrant, filled with life and joy. I find children inspirational. I watch them, play with them, interact with them, and love them.

I see purity in children. They are beautiful creations, small and inquisitive, afraid of nothing, unaware of the experiences and occasions that lie in wait for them. They are completely content making a sandwich at Potbelly's, taking care of the dog at Pet Vet or shopping at Dominick's. They are absorbed in their play, fully trusting and interested.

The youngest children, the ones who are fifteen months or younger, are the ones that impact me the most. We were in the water room and I saw this handsome little boy thrilled by the water. He took his small hands and splashed them in the water, then gave his mother a dazzling smile, took his wet hands and wetted down his hair. His movements were accidental and imprecise, but smiling, he continued splashing himself, his expression radiant. He smeared water on his head and gave a gurgling laugh that almost made me cry.

There was another day that I saw a baby do the same thing, dipping his hands in the water with the same excitement and interest as he splashed himself thoroughly. The joy in his face was like the light of the sun, and again I felt a queer choking feeling as I struggled to retain my composure.

What is it about them that affects me so?

There is so much. It is the way they look at the world that makes me see. There they are, standing in the water room, and they behave as though they have discovered a wonderful creation, immersing themselves totally within the water. They look at everything with new eyes and shriek with laughter as sparkling liquid shines on their hair, eyelashes, skin and teeth. They are completely excited, completely joyous.

I watch them run throughout the museum, stopping at every exhibit with thrilled excitement. It is most common in the water room, but I see it in the music room, too, as the child gives a delighted smile upon hearing an object emit a noise, a noise caused by his own pounding of a rubber-headed mallet upon some surface. There is the dancing room, and somehow the children's instinctive movements take on so much energy and life...they are completely at home with themselves, they are not self-conscious, they even seek attention...they are genuine and they are pure.

I laugh at the idea of Diversity Days or other ways to show us to respect one another. Anyone who wants to learn about other cultures or races should simply spend a day at the museum, where we are surrounded by black children, Hispanic children, Chinese, Korean, Asian and white children. Observe how artlessly they interact with each other; how easily they play! There is no ploy, no ulterior motive, this is not a political situation, some famous writer standing at a pulpit and smiling as he says, "I-am-friends-with-a-black-woman," no! These are children who could not care less about the color of the others' skin- these are children, pure and self-centered, children who love without restraint, children who are interested by and astonished by everything.

When I watch them they give me new insight. New eyes as I too look at the world the way they do, looking at the brilliance of the water and thinking of how wonderful it is. It is wet! It is sparkling! I can put it on my face, my hands, my hair! I can float boats in it! I can even drink it- though Mommy tells me not to. Look at how eager they are, look how they want to explore! They are so different from everyone I know. They are not jaded, cynical, hateful; they do not do things for ulterior motives. They have not learned to adopt different personas in front of different people; they have not learned to dismiss the world and expect all the wonders within it.

Do I say that all children are wonderful? Of course not. Children can be trying and often are; children can be bratty and obnoxious, or worse, they can become adult-like, jaded and cynical at their young age. But the majority of children are not this way...the majority of children exclaim in delight as they play with water or make noises with rubber mallets, and it is their way of seeing that makes me see.

It is the purity that is this child that both inspires and frightens me. Can I be worthy of the child that I once was? Am I, the adult, as willing to do, to explore, to understand as the child? Can I become as pure as the child is, albeit in a different form? I do not speak of innocence and naivete. I speak of wonder.

It is a quality to wonder, to marvel, at all that surrounds us, to look upon others simply as ourselves, to play with them simply because they are who we are, to care nothing for their looks or cultures. Children are self-centered and love selfishly, but they are trusting, and their love for you is pure because they consider you as one more unimaginable wonderful thing that has entered their lives, you are suddenly their "friend." They will compliment you on the face paint on your cheek, they will smile at you when you talk to them, they will very seriously ask you what you would like on your Potbelly's sandwich, they will express all their emotions...fear, love, despair, front of you. Children do not hide. They do not hide behind masks, they do not change what they feel for others. If the child is scared of you, he will hide; if he is tired or unhappy, he will cry. Social norms and being "polite," has not yet been implemented...the child is utterly genuine.

To receive a response from a child- no matter what it may be- love, fear, anger- is to receive it whole-heartedly, because it is an expression of the true feelings of that child, unaltered and unhidden. It is genuine.

And to be loved by a child is the greatest gift one can ever receive.

Because a child loves you unconditionally, genuinely, and whole-heartedly. There is no facade, no mask, no ulterior motives. There is only you and the child.

A child's smile can mean the world.

Of course there are exceptions. Children who have learned to hide their feelings through abuse, neglect, or anger from their parents. Children who are not children because they are not carefree, but bear the responsibilities of adults and act as miniature adults. These are not the children I refer to, because these are the sad children, and perhaps what is saddest is that the purity of their love persists. I remember one Chicken Soup story where a father abused his child and the policeman took the child away in order to protect him. But the child still expressed a love and concern for his father and worried about him. He wanted to go home; he wanted to see Daddy.

To see children is to see the touch of God in humanity. To see purity, to see joy, to see love. To see all that is genuine. And to see much that we destroy as we grow older.

I think that underneath my thoughts, concerns and views, I am still a child. I am an idealist. I am looking for the good. I want to explore and to always view the world with wonder. I don't know if I can achieve that goal, but I want to try.

Do you know what a soul is? It is the smile of a child. The truth and genuine nature, the light that radiates from his face. We blacken our souls when we lie to preserve the good opinion of others, when we adopt masks and do thing simply to impress others. When we betray ourselves and forego our genuine natures. When we dismiss the world and do not view it in beauty. When we pontificate and set ourselves up and lords and masters instead of inquiring, questioning toddlers. When we do not view everything as though for the very first time. When we forget to discover. When we think our mind and understanding are infallible. We are not being children then. We are being adults.

I want to have the soul of a child. Please, God, grant me that kind of soul.

corner point said...

Your writing sparkles.... You so captured how I--we--feel about our children. Thank you for sharing that with me...

psyched said...

wow, that was such an incredible post. I, too, would be fortunate to put my children in your hands. I think the problem is, there aren't enough who think and feel the way you do. Those are the educators who are ruining our kids.

People often say, "oh, you're just another teacher, like the rest of the frum world.." but that's is AWFUL. Teachers have to have it in them; the other ones shouldn't be teaching. I'm glad you have it in you, and may you continue to feel this way about your job and enlighten the lives of your students for years to come!

I'd also like to add a story; something I recently encountered:

I interviewed for a part time job recently, at a school for special needs children. I had been explaining to the interviewer that I've been working with children on the autism spectrum for the last 8.5 years, and how passionate I am toward my work. His response? "But doing ABA (applied behavior analysis -- the method I use) is really not that hard, I mean what's the big deal?" I was shocked and felt the need to immediately defend my work. I told him, "what do you mean 'it's nothing'?? It takes patience, love, care and kindess. Not everyone can do it; you have to have it in you!" I think he was taken aback, and after realizing that I probably sounded like I was bragging (but did NOT mean to come off that way), I stopped. Boy was I annoyed, though.

So, same goes for you, and all of the other educators out there. How can people put us down??

corner point said...

Thank you!
I'm glad you understand. That means something very beautiful about you, too, you know :-)

psyched said...

aw, thanks ;)

LittleBirdies said...

I have two sons, one 4 1/2 and one almost 3. They are both in preschool and I love their morahs. My kids come home with excitement about what they learn. I wish I could be the one teaching them (and try when the opportunity arises), but I unfortunately am stuck at a desk all day. I tell the directors and morahs that I envy them (though I don't know if I could ever do it). I don't look down on preschool teachers--the opposite, I look up to them in wonder and awe of what they are doing to my boys young minds and spirits.