Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Teaching Just By Being

Each week I volunteer for an hour or so at a local elementary school. I play games with kindergartners to help them work on skills that need a little extra practice. The class in which I volunteer is an "English Language Learners" class; kids do not speak English as their first language. They are not only learning all those important kindergarten concepts; they are also learning a new language. (And boy are they hard workers.)

A few weeks ago, we were working on syllables. The game had pictures of 1-syllable and 2-syllable words. Kids looked at the picture, identified the word, and decided how many claps we did as we said the word. (cat=1 clap; pizza=2 claps) One picture/word gave us some difficulty: EAR. The kids kept trying to use 2 claps on that word. Now, I live in Tennessee and "ear" is often said with 2 syllables. But really it is only 1 syllable.

I smiled all afternoon at the memory of 2 claps for "ear." But I also realized that, while helping them clap once, I had to pronounce the word carefully, differently than I may say it otherwise. The kids wanted to use 2 claps because that's the way they had heard (and maybe said) the word. I had to be a good example of how the word was said, with 1 syllable.

Now, apply this experience to teaching overall. The kids in that classroom--and the kids in my class at church--learn more by observing me than listening to me. They learn how to treat others by the way I treat them and their friends. They learn how to deal with frustration by the way I handle unexpected challenges. They learn that listening is as important--or more important--than talking when I attentively listen to their stories, problems, fears, and victories (and when I don't talk so much).

My teaching is more than activities and talk. My teaching is living and being. And I must continually ask myself, "What am I really teaching them today?"

Photo from
Photographer: goued120


  1. I love how thoughtful and reflective you are, Scott. Very inspiring. You make me want to be better. Thanks!

  2. Wonderful and so true! Can't wait to share these thoughts with our amazing volunteers this weekend...I of course will give you full credit :)

  3. Isn't that the bottom line? Teaching young children is just as much about the kind of person we are in the classroom as it is the activities we plan and prepare. Thanks for sharing so many thoughtful concepts this week.

  4. This is one of the main reasons teaching is so exhausting. Sadly, it is also one of the things with which I have been truly struggling lately.