It’s something every teacher has to deal with, sooner or later: the generation gap. Or more aptly put, bridging that gap every time one enters the classroom, be it filled with kindergarteners, adolescents, or older teens. It’s the issue that arises every time the teacher looks a child in the eye and wonders what on earth compelled that child to take a scissors to her own hair. Or purposely fail a test. Or send text messages during class. I remember those things, all of them, from my own childhood. And it’s those memories that keep my sense of pedagogical balance in place when I address the issues at hand.
Keep your hands out of your pants and on your knees, please.
It’s okay to fail, try again later on so you can prove to yourself how well you know your stuff.
You may send your messages after the lesson, your friends will still be there…
Eaach time, I find myself suppressing a smile as I remember my own acts of development at that age. I can never get mad at “my kids”, not really. Who could, when faced with the facts of one’s own foibles “back in the day”?
My inner child keeps me constantly aware of these things. So I take some time, every day, to look at the world through new eyes. What makes this sky so beautiful? What makes that tower of blocks so sturdy? What is so amazing about the language I teach? What makes that word sound so funny?
Even now, teaching at the teacher’s college, I recognize the struggles my students go through and find myself recognizing the steps they make. These young adults-in-the-making are learning so many things at once: how to be a teacher, how to take care of themselves, how to take care of their room, how to cook, how to be social, how to create a balance between play, work, and school. So much to learn, in so little time. They are busy learning how to “adult”, as 9gag.com would put it. “Adulting” as a verb, not as a noun. Learning how to grow up, and take things seriously, they wish to be taken seriously. No more kissing the boo-boos away, but serious let’s-deal-with-these-grownup-problems talks. No more games and childishness in the classroom, but serious theory, work, and note-taking so they can sweat their way through multiple-choice exams and prove to the world that they are, really, adults who deserve to be taken seriously.
I remember being there, in those shoes, working hard to be taken seriously, so I respect that need with my students. At the same time, I want them to remember their inner child, that part of them that makes it possible to make contact with the children they will be working with for the rest of their lives. But how do children learn?
By playing, of course!
There are many of us who might agree that young people learn best by playing. Four, five, perhaps even six year olds. But when do we stop playing, really? It is my view that people learn best by playing, no matter how old they are. It’s just a matter of how we define “play”. If we define “play” in the most narrow sense of the word, then we might see it as that “spontaneous activity of children” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary). In that case, play is something only children can do, adults are excluded from this activity. Another definition places play as something that is only done for amusement, or recreation (thefreedictionary.com).
I disagree with these readings. My personal view of play is that it is something often done by (young) people as a serious means of learning. Just think about playing house, playing school, jumping rope, climbing on the monkey bars. Playing board games, role playing, telling ghost stories during slumber parties. Practice teaching, playing sports, painting, moving out into the world, It’s all part of the bigger game called “what happens when I do ….?” All this learning takes place in practice situations where there is some form of back-up. If it all goes wrong, there is somebody around to help clean up the mess, kiss away the boo-boos, and figure out how to fix the problem.
During all of these forms of practice/play, learners are exploring and conducting research, be it social, physical, emotional, or otherwise. They are learning and their play is serious work. It needs to be taken just as seriously as the learning taking place among their older counterparts, the students.
So I call upon my inner children – the kindergartner, the adolescent, the young adult-in-the-making – to help bridge the gap between my own, earlier experiences and the experiences of my students now, to understand where they are and give just enough information to help them help themselves, as Maria Montessori once put it.
As a teacher of future teachers, I try to keep their inner children well-fed. We play games and have serious fun so they can use these games with their own children. We sing, we dance, and we read books aloud. Sometimes, the students understand what I’m doing, but occasionally they don’t. And when they don’t, they get upset, claiming that I’m treating them like little children. And that’s when I explain the concept of Multiple Hats.
Every student, every adult-in-the-making, wears two hats during class. One of those hats is the Very Serious Student who is learning to be a teacher. The other hat is the Teacher Hat, with which they apply their learning to their profession. During my lessons, I talk about these hats very explicitly. Which hat have you got on now, I ask. And if you put on your Teacher Hat, how can you use this information in your classroom, with your own children? How would you adapt this learning activity so that it would be easier for your children? How would you change the content of the game? How would you organize it so your class will understand it better?
That’s when the students understand. Aha, they say, and I see the connection being made between their experiences now and the experiences of their children. I see the bridges being built and know that we’re on the right road. It’s not always clear to them, but they’re catching on, one game at a time.
As long as they remember how to play.