Where hope lives

Little people who are open and even excited to learn.

Children are on my mind this week because I’m participating in a short internship the purpose of which is to better gauge my own interest in teaching. I’ve been reading and discussing education research articles and videos, and observing lots of students and teachers. Sometimes it is amazing; other times it is amazingly sad.

When I logged onto WordPress a moment ago, I saw a lot of the usual: writers who write about writing, and even some who write about writing about writing; people getting offended by injustices in the world; people writing about “microaggressions,” who would probably be a lot happier if they (a) tried to see anything in life through a lens other than that of power politics, and (b) quit spending their free time writing about things that piss them off. I know I’m happier when I write about things that make me happy.

Anyhow, the annoying aspects of WordPress got me thinking about children versus adults. I spent my whole lunch irritated at having to do a group presentation with some fellow interns. Some of them half-ass. Some already knew when they applied that they don’t want to be teachers, but thought it would be an easy way of earning a stipend. Some are just terrified they’re not going to get their fantasy engineering job when they graduate, and consider teaching to be their Plan B.

Of course not everyone is this way, and at least one of my classmates seems really charming as well as apt at teaching.

Whoa. I just had to interrupt writing this. My husband texted, “Were you affected by this lockdown business?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it had to have something to do with one of the schools where I’ve been volunteering. To Google. Several schools, including one where I’ve been spending my time this week, were locked down today in response to telephone threats. Nothing happened, and all the students have been sent home already. Wow. It’s hard to explain how heartbreaking it is to think about any of these students I’ve only spent a few days with getting harmed. Oh my God, bless them and their teachers and their worried parents!

Okay, I’ll return to what I was writing. Although I have plenty of adult friends I love and value, a lot of adults exasperate me with the things they do that they also try to tell their children not to do. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a phrase I hate more as an adult than I did as a child.

If you want your child to be considerate of his peers, show him what that looks like.

If you want your student not to interrupt others when they’re speaking, do not interrupt your student.

If you do not want your daughter to cheat on her homework, then you should not cheat on yours either (even if you are a parent and an employee and a student).

If you want your teen to drive safely, then you put your phone away and slow down yourself.

So for me, one of the attractions of teaching is interacting with children–with little people who are open even excited to learn. Little people who laugh at funny names, who haven’t yet been trained to act more “professionally.” Little people who are shy at first, who giggle at their mistakes, and wear sneakers with every single outfit! Little people who don’t psychoanalyze each other yet, but who do seem to instinctively try to manipulate grown-ups.

Other adults make me smile, of course. My friends and family, the random witty and outgoing stranger you meet from time to time. Hearing a Welsh person pronounce “squirrel.” Any time I witness an act of kindness, or when I see somebody doing something with great skill or passion.

But kids stir up something else. Maybe I am just more sympathetic to them because I believe they are more malleable, dependent, and therefore innocent than somebody my age. But I don’t know if that’s it really. When I’m around children, I feel like we should be more like them–they shouldn’t be more like us. There are so many things we lose from childhood, so many ways in which we become less honest and more cold, all in the name of what? Learned mutual distrust? Ambition? Worship of mammon?

Children are not perfect, of course. They are people. To be childish, however, does not mean to be childlike;  can we not train out the former while preserving the latter?

I am drifting away from my point. My point is that I do enjoy being around children. It is miraculous to see comprehension dawn on their smooth faces, to see them learning to communicate with each other, to watch them collaborate on simple problems the same way adults do on more complex problems. It is hard to see them have difficulty, but their will to learn can be inspiring.

It is really, really hard to see them disengaged, to see them give up, to see them misbehaving for no apparent reason. There are as many causes for this as there are students. Some are too hungry to concentrate. Some are starved for attention at home. Others may be in need of medication or therapy they can’t afford–or their parents are in need of medication or therapy they can’t afford. But there is hope and potential in children, if only someone can keep it alive.

Ultimately, I guess hope is what it’s all about. Hope that my kids will do better than me. Hope that there will be an earth full of wonderful diversity for them to enjoy. Hope that one generation will live in a more peaceful world than ours today. Maybe even hope that life is more than just the seventy years or so that we walk this land.

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