These are some of my teacher-y faces. Seriously, that is how I show up to teach. Denim jacket or sweater (the library is chilly!), hair mussed because, somehow, my hair is always a mess, glasses half way down my nose and excited to be there with all sorts of new ideas dancing in my head! As it turns out, I really love teaching!
This comes up because The Season is coming to a close and all of my students are returning from whence they came and I won't see them again 'til autumn. Boohoo!
I guess when I really think about it, I was always a teacher of sorts. I "taught" my younger sister things like how to tie her shoes and don't polish rocks by licking them coz you might accidentally swallow them (which actually happened to her once) and don't pet the tarantulas that are hiking up the driveway...practical stuff.
I taught a little piano when I was in high school and did a lot of tutoring in college. And of course, like all mothers, I was forever teaching my own children things. Just normal stuff like the alphabet and how to make their beds, how to properly iron a button-down shirt and how to make cookies, things of that nature. But I'd like to think that I also taught them to believe in themselves and how to be just good people. I recall throwing out a few words of...ok let's call it wisdom...now and again. I remember saying things like, "Put your brain in gear before your mouth in motion" and "You don't look any taller standing on someone else". Pithy eh? I had dozen's of 'em.
But I think my first real official taste of teaching was back in Connecticut. I had taken a year off working after my 11 year turn at Hospice work. Tim very generously backed my play when I said that I needed a little time off before getting another job. I needed to do something positive and nurturing for awhile after being surrounding by death, dying and grief for so long.
I found not one but two wonderful ways to heal my soul. First as a docent in an art museum. Although I have absolutely ZERO artistic ability, I adore art and museums. Seemed like a good combo. There was a permanent exhibit that of course we had to learn about, but there were also visiting exhibits that were just temporary. Those were the most exciting. The "tour" verbiage wasn't scripted. We were given some pertinent information about each new exhibit and a private tour by it's curator. The rest of what we docents said to our visitors came from our own research. Yes we did our own research for each exhibit and therefore each of us gave a slightly different tour. My favourite groups to tour were children. Making art interesting and fun for a school group was a challenge and I adored those bright and shiny little faces just soaking up their new experiences! If I did my job right, they would take away perhaps an interest in art and hopefully a love of museums that would be lifelong.
The second thing I found was volunteering at a local elementary school. Initially they gave me the advanced Math (which sounds laughable until you realize that we were talking 2nd graders here. I can do advanced 2nd grade math thank you very much) and advanced English (far more my comfort zone). I was given the necessary materials and directions and it was fine. Not exciting but fine.
Then they asked me if I would be interested in tackling a different group. Because we lived in a university town, there were a lot of visiting professors from other countries. They often brought their families with them and those other family members did not speak English. These poor kiddos just sat in school every day completely lost. They couldn't follow anything being said or done. They were learning nothing and bored out of their little minds. That sounded like an interesting challenge! I asked if there were materials or directions on how to teach this group and the answer was no. They had no ESL (English as a Second Language) program. Gotcha.
So I created one. I figured it out as we went along. There were children from many different countries. They didn't speak my language, I didn't speak theirs. They didn't speak each other's languages either! Interesting situation. I started out with stacks of magazines. I had them cut out pictures of anything they liked and then paste it into notebooks. We communicated through mime. Every day was like a game of charades. Once they each had a few pictures in their books, I gave them one word. I would point to the picture and say what it was, "Car" for example. Then I printed the word in their books. They repeated it back to me and practiced writing the word. Then we expanded, "Big car", the "Big Red Car" and so forth.
I also brought in a children's version of the game Concentration. Each little cardboard card had a picture of something. A truck, a doll, a kitten, a banana and they would have to find the matching card. But the key was saying the correct word (which was also written on the card with the picture). They were starting to put it all together. Kids are so darned smart.
Then I came in one day wearing all sorts of crazy clothes. Coats, Sweaters, Hats, Mittens, Crazy socks, etc. And I had the word of the garment written on a piece of paper and pined to the article. We took turns wearing these silly things and making sentences, "Kim is wearing the red hat" "Rolf gave the blue coat to Rajesh" , things like that. We had so much fun!! By the end of the year, they were absolutely speaking and writing and understanding so much more English that they had before. I loved every single day that I worked with them.
And then when we moved to Colorado, I found another ESL program through the library but for adults. Ok, that will be different but I was still excited about it. Sign me up! I was given a group of lovely ladies from Russia. A mother and her two teenaged daughters. We all crowded into one of the small tutoring rooms and we had great fun and they really learned a lot. And then I got into trouble. You see, I wasn't using the materials they told me to use. Shame on me! It was because their materials were terrible. They were mimeos of mimeos. I couldn't read the directions on half of them and the rest of them were, in a word, stupid. Not helpful. Not useful. So I made the executive decision to NOT use them. Shockingly, my students learned anyway. But the powers that be found out and I got fired. Oops. I felt bad. But not badly enough to use their "teaching" (and I use the term loosely) materials.
And now we are here. I was a little doubtful at first. Was this experience going to be like the last one? Was I going to have to be restricted to just their copies of copies of really poor materials? Not at all! I was given carte blanche. As long as my students were learning, they didn't really care what materials I used. Huzzah! There I was, all excited about teaching once again.
I love seeing that light in a persons' eyes when they finally "get it". I adore finding the way to reach each individual, because everyone learns differently. I love what I learn with each student that I take on. There is a very, dare I say it, honourable, sense of purpose in teaching that speaks to me.
But now, as I said at the beginning of this post, they have all gone home and I have nobody to teach :( I find myself correcting grammar in the newspapers out loud, remarking on spelling errors that I find online, and sometimes I have to reallllllly hold myself back when I'm having a conversation with someone who says "Mute point" instead of "Moot Point".
I have found my self idly considering whether or not lizards can be trained whenever I'm in the courtyard watching them dash around. One day at the jetty a visitor, all excited at the birds, pointed at a large osprey soaring overhead began screaming to her family, "Look there's a pelican! A Pelican! A Pelican!" and I couldn't stop myself from correcting her, "Well that particular Pelican is actually an Osprey". Tim smiled and kind of shook his head. He knows I just cannot help myself.
You learn new things all of the time. Every single day, you should learn at least one new thing. Whether it's about other people, the world around us or ourselves. It seems that I learned something about myself that I should have recognized a long time ago. Apparently, I am a teacher! Cool!
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.