Learn From your Students

We often think that the role of a teacher is to impart wisdom and knowledge, but it’s easy to forget that learning goes both ways.  Children can be our greatest teachers if we are willing to let them. 

kidsThey are each a bundle of life, joy, and inherent wisdom in their own right.  As soon as you let go of your sense of control and your feeling that as a teacher you should know everything, and instead let your students have a little freedom to let their light shine out, you just might learn some of the most profound lessons that you will learn anywhere.

I know I did.  Here are some of the extraordinary life lessons that my ESL students taught me.

Simple play is one of the most powerful things out there

Often, the ability to just have fun is drilled out of us by the time we’re adults.  Kids, on the other hand, are so easily able to jump into imaginative games and laughter and pure fun.

When your class has been sitting in their chairs all day and they start getting restless and misbehaving, it’s not because they’re bad kids, it’s more likely because they’re lacking the feeling of engagement and lightheartedness that comes from just being able to play.

More and more scientific research is coming along to support the idea that play is crucial for learning, social skills, and general happiness. As soon as you find a way to make learning fun, you’ll not only find that the discipline problems fade into the background, you’ll also find that the quieter students are more willing to speak up, the struggling students start to catch on to phrases or vocabulary that they just weren’t getting from a worksheet.

If you let yourself have fun with the kids, laugh with them, get into the games that they play, you’ll find that they bring a feeling of lightheartedness to your life that extends well beyond the classroom.

Everyone’s light shines differently, so respect and honor each person’s uniqueness

For long months in one of my classes, I struggled with an extremely difficult and disruptive student.  He was diagnosed with ADHD, and often seemed to be incapable of sitting in his chair for more than five seconds.

Wasn’t it my job, as a teacher, to find a way to keep him at his desk and make sure that he finished this worksheet or that journal prompt?  After a while, I decided that, no, it really wasn’t my job to do that if it clearly wasn’t working for him or me or the class.

This little boy had a spirit and an energy that didn’t belong confined to a desk, and the more I was willing to loosen my grip on him and accept that he just didn’t fit the paradigm of the “good student” and never would, the more I was able to recognize that he had his own unique way of learning and being in the world.

Finding ways to let him engage in class in his own extremely high-energy way was challenging and often exhausting, and balancing that with the fact that there were times he did have to sit down for 15 minutes and finish a test made it more of a challenge.

But when he started to feel he was in his element and was accepted instead being labeled as the “troublemaker,” the excitement and fun and overall benefit that he brought to the class made all that effort more than worth it, and I still look back fondly on this student who initially caused me so much frustration.

It’s a lesson I still come back to when people in my life cause me frustration, and it’s always worthwhile to ask, am I expecting this person to fit inside of some box that I have, or am I truly honoring and respecting who they are?

Respect children’s views of the world – sometimes they see things clearer than you do

I had a couple of students that decided to spend a few classes referring to everyone as “me.”  Of course, as the authority figure, my initial reaction was to insist that we use everyone’s names instead of joking around during class.

But once I decided to go with it for a while, it quickly grew from a little joke between a few students, to a beautiful thing that enveloped the class for a few days.  Conversations became, “Thanks, me in the red shirt.”  “Hey, me at that table, please pass the scissors.” “Excuse me, me-teacher, may I use the bathroom?”

Now, never mind that they were actually getting some pretty good practice with prepositional phrases, the feeling of unity among the class that this simple little “game” created was a beautiful thing to see, and left me marveling at how easily these children saw the connection between everyone that we adults so often miss.

As you go through your time teaching, be willing to look at your students not just as sponges there to absorb the information, but as human beings who have their own unique wisdom, personalities, and lessons to share with you.   If you pay attention, you never know what beautiful little secrets about life your students might teach you.

Have your students ever surprised you and taught you something? Let us know about your experiences below. 

 

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