Change! The only constant. It scares; it intimidates, and it overwhelms, yet it’s the only route for us to transition to other versions of our selves.
When I reflect on this, I find myself laughing at some of the most challenging experiences in the past. These were not just related to individual children or classroom management; mostly it was learning to manage me. I seem to have forgotten what I felt like during that time; what I do remember is that I was filled with self-doubt. In the end, however, I did emerge stronger, wiser, and more at peace with my self. I’ve realised that there are no rights and wrongs; each journey is as unique as the individual making it. Sometimes discovering a new version of your self may mean, moving away from what you initially set out to do. Irrespective, you end up realising what your truth is.
The idea of what it means to be a teacher, only ever becomes real, when you get into class and experience what it is like. For me, this was quite an exciting time; what amazed me the most was how neuroscience was dispelling myths that impacted child-rearing and education. The tale that I believe did the most damage was the belief that “there were those who could and those who could not.” There seemed to be some secret ingredient that some possessed, and some didn’t. It has been a while since then and it is common knowledge among educators today that you can start learning any skill at any time; age doesn’t matter, and if you keep at it, you WILL get better.
Transitioning into teacherhood isn’t any different. The individuals that you set out to guide will become your mentors; I assure you that they will be far superior to any you have encountered thus far. When I reflect on my journey, I realise that my guidance came from the need to respond to the environment. For me, this environment was the learners I served, the physical environment, all it housed and myself. These five steps became my road map of sorts. I like to share them with new teachers, to demonstrate what the process looked like for me. In time, each one discovers their own recipe.
Step one, ask your self some questions. What made you choose teaching? What do you love about being with children? And what makes you cringe? Ask yourself, what you consider your strengths and what you consider your shortcomings as an individual. Herein lies the key; the answers will give you insight into intent, motive and will tell you how much of yourself you are willing to invest. It will also set you on the path to accepting yourself entirely. Only then, can you begin the journey of morphing into the new and improved version of you. I promise that there are no quick fixes; it will be an ongoing process that will be effortful, challenging and frustrating. Montessori talks about metamorphosis when she speaks of children; I believe it’s no different for the invested adult; she too will slowly change and the path to this isn’t a breeze.
Keep reminding yourself that everything we learn during our training is set in an ideal situation; the work of adapting this learning to fit the myriad possibilities is what is required of us. If you wish to serve “the child,” then it means learning to celebrate differences. Functioning in this manner will become seamless in a few years. But just as complacency begins to set in, you will meet your new mentor/mentor’s. Embrace them, for it is with here; in these moments of newness and doubt, that our spirits will be nourished.
The tool required to access all of this will be observation. So start looking and listening; that’s step two. Think of that wise old owl rhyme. That’s what we are aiming for initially. I’m not suggesting you become wholly passive and be part of the furniture, but observe before you decide to act in word and deed. If this can become a habit, you become more productive with your classroom management and intervention, it will also significantly impact your planning. My environment was most peaceful when I ensured, I was seated in my place as each child arrived, find what works best for you. Doing this allowed me to acknowledge each child and let them get on with their day. Some children were not able to do so just yet, I was, however, able to observe this and watch before stepping into solving the problem.
Observation will very naturally guide you to creating more authentic experiences for children and this is step three. It is this practice that will lead to your AHA moments.
Step three – Authenticity, bring your authentic self to every situation and show up even if situations on hand scare you. Doing this is a little like putting your resume out there and tell the child that you’ve applied for the position of their caretaker. Focus on forming a connection, I’ve learned that it’s hard to connect to people you don’t understand and that brings us to step four. Building one’s understanding means asking questions. For me, assuming that there lie innumerable shades of grey held the key. Its what allowed me to set realistic expectations for children and helped me build a real community. This learning occurred because I was trying to gain insight into the age I worked with from a neurological perspective. Another huge factor was that I became a mum, and a whole new world seemed to have opened up.
Trying to understanding how children change at different ages is something every educator should do. Being acquainted with the neurology of childhood makes our work easier. It helps you get rid of the myths that have plagued classrooms for years and will enable you to change your perspective. For me, this translated into learning more about The theory of mind, how it develops and is connected to executive function—learning about periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium & understanding that children have different temperaments. It supported and motivated me both as a teacher and a parent.
Step five After going through the steps we’ve just spoken about, the most vital gift that any adult can give to a child is to guide them with confidence and faith. I’ve observed this year after year with new teachers and have seen children gravitate towards some guides; while they avoid and ignore many. I know children like having confident adults around them; it makes them feel secure. Once you realise that there are so many discoveries to be made when it comes to understanding children, you become mindful of your interactions. You will make mistakes and feel terrible at the end of the day, but it helps you prepare for the next. Take it one day at a time and embrace your mistakes, when you step into your environment, step in with confidence knowing that it’s the beginning of a whole new day, and you’re not as green as you were yesterday.
In time, understanding, accepting, and connecting with yourself and the children you work with will become your most important priority. The pieces will now begin to fit.