Monday, September 14, 2015

Care before Curriculum

If the Associated Press gives me permission to run the photo, this blog post will begin with a picture of a fire fighter lying down next to a child who was in a serious car accident, jointing watching an animated movie on a cell phone. (If permission does not come by my self-imposed publication deadline, you can see the image as part of this news report on the incident.) If I had to sum up the main message of today's blog entry with one picture, this would be it.

The first week of school has come and gone. It's been a whirlwind of experiences, especially because this year I will be working frequently with our youngest students, some of whom are attending school for the first time. Three separate moments demonstrated to me that we need to build relationships before lesson plans, and love (or care) must come before curriculum.

The first event happened on the second day of school. We no longer have "staggered entry", where only a few junior kindergarten students start each day, building up to a full class by the end of the week. This means that every JK student started at the same time. There were a lot of tears and a domino effect of crying. A relatively new stipulation also insists that classes receive their prep time delivery right from the very first day of school, so transitions occur quite soon in the schedule. I was bringing a kindergarten class to the library and a little boy was crying and did not want to enter. One of our junior division teachers crouched down next to him in the hallway and talked softly and kindly to him. With her encouragement, he walked into the library. When I thanked the teacher at the end of the school day, she said that the student reminded her of her own son, who was also a new JK student prone to weeping. With tears in her own eyes, she said that she'd want someone to do for her son what she did for that other little boy.

The second incident took place in a car. I was carpooling with a colleague to a staff "welcome-back-to-school" social and she was transporting her own children to their grandfather's house before the party. The boys and I were chatting and the conversation led to talk about video games. We discussed Terraria ("you have your own server?"), Minecraft, some of the popular Minecraft YouTubers (like Exploding TNT and Stampy), and League of Legends. He was incredulous when I said that I sometimes just like to watch my own son play video games. The teacher later told me that her eldest boy had gushed that he'd love it if I was his mom, and was in the process of trying to arrange a play date with me and my son at my house.

I can't really divulge too much about the third event. It's not something that I wish for any teacher to experience and after nineteen years in the profession, dealing with things like that don't get any easier. I cried a lot, especially when I realized that I was seen as a safe harbour.

Let's look back at that iconic photograph. The emergency worker featured (Casey Lessard) did not want to elevate his actions - he referred to all the other personnel not seen in the photo and said they did more than he did. That may be true, yet it is the compassion and consideration for an individual's emotional state that made this such a compelling visual. Even with all the labour strife looming and the massive responsibilities to do the job, teachers must remember that we are dealing with people first, students second. My favourite quotation is "it's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice". Help them succeed academically, but first make sure they are safe, healthy and happy. There are all sorts of "warm fuzzy" quotes I could include to conclude, about how teachers can make a difference - my challenge, and all of ours in education, is not just to quote it, but to do it and make sure they students know it and feel it.

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