Making Teaching an Art Form

A child’s education is the process of many people working together to build something beautiful. As an early elementary grade teacher, you are called to lay the foundation, even though in the end your work may be the most overlooked part of the project. How can you make the student’s first years in school not only stimulating, but genuinely educational? Myron shares five complimentary principles:

  1. Life is allowed to be boring.
  2. Share joy as a gentle rain—not a fire hose.
  3. You are running a classroom—not a circus.
  4. Structure does not mean stuffy.
  5. Be alive.

So why do students not like school? Well, I think there’s multiple reasons.

Some legitimately struggle in school, and that is valid. But how many times do students not like school because, well, they never had the opportunity to develop a love for school. They always had teachers who were too focused on getting things done. Teachers who did not savor each moment of learning with the child, with each of the children.

A child’s education is the process of many people working together to build something beautiful. As an early elementary grade teacher, you are called to lay the foundation even though in the end it’s often the most overlooked part of the project.

You get the privilege of starting the children. You see the first day of school. And it will be many years until you get to see the end result. So as a K-2 teacher, you do not get to see the end result, but how you teach as the artist can make the difference between a foundation like this or a foundation like this.

Reminders for Making Teaching an Art Form

Life is Allowed to be Boring

First of all, life is allowed to be boring. I think one thing I struggle with as a teacher (and maybe I’m alone in this, but I don’t think so) is that I want to make every day exciting for my students, especially in grade one and two, like they’re full of life and they just kind of feed me and I keep on feeding them, and we want to get more and more exciting and … Is that really accurate?

Years ago, I had a session. I was supposed be speaking at another unrelated teacher’s event, and the title of the session they gave me was “Never a Dull Moment.” Do you like that title? Is that true? Let’s give you a bit of feedback on that. Is that accurate?

Audience Member: “It depends on what your definition of ‘dull’ is.”

Brubacher: Say more if you don’t mind. She said, “It depends what your definition of dull is.”

Audience Member: “In my classroom there’s always something happening whether or not it should be.”

Brubacher: “There’s always something happening whether it should be or not,” you’re saying. Okay. Yeah.

Audience Member: “So there’s always activity, but not necessarily exciting.”

Brubacher: Always activity but not necessarily exciting. I like that. Yeah.

Share Joy as a Gentle Rain—Not a Fire Hose

One thing I need to remember is that in the classroom, we share joy as a gentle rain, not a fire hose. So kind of like we were talking about, in contrast to “never a dull moment.” No. School shouldn’t be boring, especially for young children. It should be exciting.

Well, I’ll read the workshop description that they gave me. This is the description I was supposed to go off of. “Learning is exciting. School should be enjoyable for all. But many times, we cloud the students’ enthusiasm with our leaden foot. Often, we resort to balloon days with hundreds of variations, but the excitement often dies when the last balloon is popped. How can teachers help students to make every day a remarkable learning day? And I think that clarifies the title a bit better, the title that I was given “Never a Dull Moment.”

Balloon days, if you want to call them that. They’re great. They’re not wrong, but every day at school should be a fun day in the sense of, “We’re with a friend. We’re learning. We’re engaged in a rich learning atmosphere. But not every day needs to be a balloon day where you pop balloons and have a great time. Instead of geysers of fun like boring, boring, boring, and then one day we have this big celebration, I always like, especially in the younger grades, I like to try to spread bubbles of joy throughout the whole day. I’ll get into that a bit later on, some of the things I would do with that.

Try to choose beneficial extras to mix into the day. They don’t have to be big things, especially with younger children, as you all know.  Actually, the smaller the better. It’s the most insignificant… That’s one thing I miss about grade one and two, teaching those grades. They get excited with the most silly things. They’re wonderful. They’re amazing. And then they get a bit older, the y they still do. They try to hide it a bit more, and then they get too old and then they don’t even bother trying to hide it anymore. They just admit they don’t like it.

You are Running a Classroom—Not a Circus

Continuing on the same thought. Remember, you are running a classroom, not a circus. So whatever teaching techniques you choose to use, you are running a classroom, not a circus. Focusing too much on trying to make learning exciting and fun and a vibrant thing, and suddenly you will have yourself being a clown trying to entertain every day. And that is not a fun place to be, unless you want to be a clown, that’d be great. But I do not think most of you look like you would be into that career.

There is a Baptist pastor who would send his children to our school, interestingly enough. And I really admire him. He is a man of a lot of wisdom. And something he said about his church is that what you win them with is what you have to keep them with. Referring to pulling people to his church. He is real with people. If they come to visit his church, he lays out what they believe. He doesn’t butter it up for them. So if that scares them away, then at least they know what they’re getting themselves into. He said, “What you win them with is what you had to keep them with.” And he said, “We’re not a circus.” And that’s where that idea comes from for me. You are running a classroom, not a circus.

Structure Does Not Mean Stuffy

You’re probably thinking I’m like all over the map  here, disagreeing with myself, because maybe I am. (I’m preaching to the choir. I know I am.) Children need and want structure. But I’m a type of person, I like my routine. I like going to the same place everyday, the same workplace. I know what’s going to happen, but I like some surprises once in a while. So to a degree, be unpredictable with your students. I try to think of an example of something like that. There’s many times but I couldn’t think of anything that great, so I won’t bother boring you with stories. “The element of surprise,” I like to call it. And then remember though, variety is not always best because sometimes when children feel unsettled, you know the results. You’ve all been there. And the teacher is always the authority figure no matter what activity you are doing, even if you can defend it to whoever as a valuable learning experience, you are still the authority. And if things get out of control, it’s no longer a good learning experience. Laughter and fun are very important. Absolutely.

Be Alive

Last of all, be alive. I can’t imagine a grade one and two teacher that looks  bored all the time. Like if you’re bored in the classroom, quit teaching or get a grade you like. If you’re teaching grade one and two still after all these years, then there’s this is for any age group, but different personalities are different. Absolutely. Don’t fake it. Be yourself. I had a session yesterday where I stressed, “be yourself.” And now I’m saying, yeah… Not making sense. Anyhow, but be alive. Authentic aliveness is attractive, and your students will feed off of that. No matter how mundane or boring the activity might seem, your enthusiasm can make the world of a difference in the classroom.

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