Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish

Though my spring break doesn't occur for nearly another month, my kids are already taking theirs. This is because different schools in different districts of Prague have different holidays to prevent the entire country fleeing to the mountains at once. None of my kids are vacationing in the Mediterranean for spring break. They all go to the mountains. One of those little things about living in a post communist country is seeing how the limits imposed by the government became somehow natural. But that's a post for another day.

My kids are off on holiday because their older siblings in other schools have holidays. This means that instead of my class of eight little princesses, we've been topping out at five. While it's frustrating because my kids will be at such different levels after this next month, it has given me a chance to get to know them better as individuals.

And there are those moments when I just happen to be listening to the right kid at the right moment that make my whole life make sense...

We've been putting up a bulletin board with fruit on it to show how some fruit grows on bushes and other fruit grows on trees. I was hanging a cloud up with rain coming down over one of the bushes and one of my girls asked why it was raining.
"Well, you need to drink water and tea, right?"
"The bush needs to drink, too. It drinks the rain water."

A few hours later, my girls were sitting below the bulletin board.
"You know why is cloudy here?" I heard. "The bush need drink rain water so it get big."

A few minutes later:
"I am rain and you are bush. I come and make you big, okay?"

Most teachers I know think of circle time as their most important lesson time. I'm learning that the time I give to individual children is just as important if not more important than our class lessons. If I teach the whole class something they don't particularly care about, it's lost about five minutes later. But if I spur the curiosity of a child and that child spurs the curiosity of another child, two sentences can lead to an elaborate role-play in which my children figure out how the world around them works.

My kids are always playing nurturing games. "I'm Mommy and you're Baby!" Or "I am the kitten and you're my daddy!" They've managed to discover a new nurturing game as rain nurtures plants. Spring is coming and I'm so excited to see it through their eyes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Where My Mommy Is?"

Today, my co-teacher and I were at school alone. At 5:00 there was only one boy left.
We got him into his coat and shoes so he wouldn't waste time when his mom came to pick him up. And then we sat in the entrance way and waited.

"Where my mommy is?!" He started to get really upset, and something took over inside of me.
"Well, your mommy was on her way to get you but when she went out the door and got in her car... there was a lion in it! She got out and closed the door, then she called the zookeeper...
The zookeeper came and took the lion back to the zoo. Your mommy got in the car and turned onto the street, just then... What did she see?" I asked my co-teacher.
"Uh, squirrels?"
"Yeah, that's right, squirrels! Hundreds of them! They climbed all over the car and made it so she couldn't see out the windows. She had to stop driving and call the zookeeper AGAIN! He came and got the squirrels and brought them back to the zoo. So your mommy drove to school but when she was almost here--"
"--A DRAGON!" interrupted my co-teacher, who totally got into the story.
"That's right, there was a dragon in the middle of the road! All of the cars had to stop, no one knew what to do! So your mommy called the zookeeper AGAIN! And do you know what he did?"
"He came and got the dragon?" asked the boy.
"No! He said, 'A dragon? What do you want me to do about a dragon?! We don't have dragons at the zoo!' So do you know who she called next?"
"His mommy?"
"Yes! She called the dragon's mommy who came down and got him. She told him, 'Little dragon, don't you ever run away again!' All the cars started driving again, and your mommy was only one block from school when she had to stop because there was a line of penguins crossing the road!"
"Yes, and they were moving very slowly because of all the snow," inserted my co-teacher.
"It's true, and that's the reason they left the zoo. They were all in their snowy area at the zoo but then they looked outside and saw snow everywhere, they thought they could go play. So they all left the zoo! Do you know what your mommy did next?"
"Called the zookeeper?"
"No, because he didn't help her with the dragon. Your mommy opened the car door and let all of the penguins in the car so she could take them back to the zoo herself! She asked the penguins which way to go and the first one said 'Right' so she drove to the right. Then the next one said, 'No, left!' so she drove to the left. Then another one said, 'No, straight!' so she drove straight. The fourth one said, 'No, turn around, the other way!' So your mommy stopped driving and decided she needed to call the zookeeper for directions." All the while, my co-teacher was pointing different directions while our student watched.

"But he was no help at all, so your mommy put on the GPS and used it to help her find her way to the zoo."
"And then what?!"
"When she got there, she brought the penguins back to their area and was in such a hurry to come get you that she forgot to close the gate! And all the animals got out! But not the scary animals, only the friendly animals because they weren't in cages."
"Mhmm, I think I see a giraffe over there!" said my co-teacher
"And an elephant?!" he asked.
"Yup, there's elepants walking outside in all this snow!"
"Then what happened?!"
"Well, your mommy got all the animals back to the zoo, closed the gate, and drove here to come get you... and there she is!"

For fifteen straight minutes I was able to tell this story. At the beginning, when I was simply putting together a sentence about a lion in the car, each word came to mind so slowly. It was like my story walkway was covered in tar. As I got going, it just came to me. The words flowed through me as though I was simply a vehicle. I didn't even have to think. When he asked, "then what?!" might have been one of my best moments as a teacher. For fifteen solid minutes, I was able to keep the most easily distracted kid in my school rapt as he sat and stared at nothing, just absorbing my words and my story. Those fifteen minutes were probably the best of my career as a teacher. They reminded me why I love children, why I love stories, why I love Waldorf pedagogy, and to some extent why I am.

And then, as I was leaving, I said to my co-teacher, "Wow, we kept him distracted for fifteen minutes!"
She responded, "I'm going to call you and have you tell me a bed-time story every night."

Okay, it was also a little good for the ol' ego.