Why do teachers teach? There are many ways our teachers are inspired to continue doing their work with passion and pride. Teaching is humbling, exhausting, and challenging. It is also the most joyful, rewarding and meaningful work I can think of. Here is a story that comes from the Talmud that inspires me to think about my debt to my ancestors and to “pay it forward.” I heard the story at a Yom Kippur service yesterday and borrowed the text below from a blog site.
An old man in ancient Israel was planting a fig tree, when a Roman general happened to pass by. The general says to the man, “Don’t you realize it will take twenty years before that tree will grow enough to give fruit, and you will be long dead by then?” The old man responded, “When I was a small child, I could eat fruit because those who came before me had planted trees. Am I not obliged to do the same for the next generation?”
One of my favorite spots in Washington, DC is the Alexander Calder Room at the National Gallery of Art. And to me, his mobile in the East Wing Atrium is a DC landmark on par with any of the memorials on the Mall. You can visit the room now using the NGA’s virtual interactive gallery here.
So I was thrilled when one of our teachers, Ms. Tobin, told me that her class was going to study Calder’s work and create their own kinetic sculptures. With Ms. Michael’s help, the class created a collaborative mobile after seeing Calder’s wire circus sculptures. Ms. Tobin even showed the video clip of Calder performing his own wire-sculpture circus. How fun is it to see a grown artist making his own toys out of wire!
Now Evergreen School has our own artistic landmark, too! Now if we could only create the virtual gallery…
Ms. Tobin also showed the video clip of Calder performing his own wire-sculpture circus at The Whitney.
An event from before school started: we began our Opening Faculty Meeting with an ice breaker. Each teacher wrote down the name of his or her favorite children’s picture book on an index card. I collected the cards and read each book’s name and we tried to guess whose book was whose. Then teachers grouped together and wrote Book Recommendation Reviews for the main bulletin board. Teachers chose wonderful books, but I didn’t think about them much until I started reading a new book called How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.
In his book, Tough questions the common belief that success in life mostly depends on cognitive skills — those are the intelligences that are measured on state tests and SATs– the size of your vocabulary, reading comprehension, your skill at calculating, solving equations and story problems. Tough has collected loads of research data from longitudinal studies (like my favorite, the marshmallow experiment) along with personal stories that show a deeper truth: noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence, are more vital than cognitive skills for achieving success.
And then I remembered Ms. Barden’s book recommendation: The Little Engine that Could. Of which our library has four copies. The Little Engine is about persistence, grit, self-confidence. ins’t it? The power of positive thought. I think I can.
Listen to what Paul Tough is saying: persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than cognitive skills for achieving success. According Tough, people generally believe that these crucial qualities can’t be taught in schools. They just arise, magically in ‘successful’ kids.
Montessori thinks different.
I need to tell you, I am in awe of the Montessori system at Evergreen and other schools. Traditional schools don’t talk much about personal habits of character like we do. Most schools want to talk about test scores. It would be so easy for us to simply focus on cognitive skills. These are the skills that can be learned by rote memorization– and they are easy to measure and reward. Pre-school by flashcards! If a child does well on a worksheet, he gets praised; he gets a sticker; he gets an ‘A’. If a child doesn’t memorize well or acts bored, she is corrected or worse… she is disciplined. If the situation is really bad, she simply fails.
What is our approach? I think you know.
- The hundred board– that is about persistence.
- The button frame– that is about independence.
- Serving your own snack– that is about self-control.
- Choosing your own work– that is about curiosity.
- Washing lunch trays– that’s grit.
When a child sticks with work that’s challenging, when she masters that skill—she feels a reward internally. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Success. Yes, I can! Then she wants a new challenge. Children’s minds are programed to learn. Does a baby need to earn a sticker so that he is motivated to crawl? Of course not. He tries. Then he tries. Then he tries.
In conclusion, I will pass on my advice… read great books to your children like the Little Engine as often as you can. And turn off the TV. Follow the advice of our teachers. Trust your own parenting judgment. And continue to learn more about the wisdom of Montessori.
Our art intern, Cora Michael, created this wonderful bulletin board for Mr. Bingcang’s class study of the life cycle of a butterfly. Stunning!
No one needs me to tell them that the first week of September is a major time of transition– for children AND their parents.
Bedtimes shift, driving patterns change, even grocery shopping habits are different. Remember how hard it was for your child to adapt to daylight savings? That was nothing compared to the first week of school. Has the dust settled for your family? It takes time for routines to be fully ingrained. Be patient.
We will talk about routines, predictability, intellectual development, perseverance, independence, classroom expectations, community, optimism and all the other Evergreen values at our Back-to-School Night on Wednesday.
How do you find a great book? For most people, personal recommendations work best. A friend’s suggestion carries even more weight for me than a flattering review in a newspaper. This year at Evergreen School, our teachers are helping to spread the word about some of their favorite picture books on our new ‘Teacher Recommended Books’ board.
We started working on it at our opening faculty meeting and it is still a work in progress. As an ice-breaker, each teacher wrote the name of their favorite children’s picture book on a slip of paper. I read the name of each book and the group tried to guess who selected each one. No one was surprised that Mrs. Conn selected Caps for Sale or that Mrs. Liotta selected Old Sadie and the Christmas Bear. But we were well surprised to learn of Mrs. Basturescu’s love for The Napping House, Mrs. Hatziyannis’s affection for The Giving Tree and Mrs. John’s for Leo the Late Bloomer.
While working on the project, I came across a wonderful picture book blog called A Million Words written by Amy Dixon. Amy is the author of Marathon Mouse and has reviewed too many picture books on her site to count. And she mixes her reviews with posts about her other passions including writing, running and parenting. Below are excerpts from her reviews of two of our teachers’ favorites.
Caps for Sale (Written and Illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina, 1938. Review by Amy Dixon and favorite by Mrs. Conn)
This has got to be one of the most well-loved books on our bookshelf. Surprising, considering it breaks one of the major picture book writing rules, which is that the main character should never be an adult. But guess what, folks, there isn’t a child to be seen anywhere in this book! But there are monkeys. Oh, the monkeys! Now be warned, you will have to explain to the children you read it to exactly what a peddler is. And you will have to convince them that although yes, they do have 50 cents in their piggy-bank, that no, it will no longer buy them a gray, brown, blue, red, or even a checked cap.
The Napping House (Written and illustrated by Don and Audry Wood, 1984. Review by Amy Dixon and favorite by Mrs. Basturescu)
Naps are funny things. As children, we felt naps were a sort of punishment. You want me to stop constructing this fort out of the entire contents of your linen closet so that I can go lay down in a dark room? Because it’s good for me? What did I ever do to you? As adults, there’s not a day that goes by that we think couldn’t be made better by the addition of a nap. Not one. But it isn’t until we have our own children that we discover the true power of the nap. A nap can mean the difference between arches-back-so-you-can’t-buckle-him-in-and-you-get-kicked-in-the-face-while-trying-to-WWF-him-into-the-carseat child, and the sits-sweetly-in-the-shopping-cart-and-charms-the-pants-off-the-entire-world child. A nap can mean the difference between a day where you actually get to write, or exercise, or clean (don’t you dare clean during the precious nap hours!) or, I don’t know…EAT REAL FOOD…and a day where you serve toast and applesauce for dinner. Naps are magical. So you can’t argue with the appeal of a book called, THE NAPPING HOUSE. And you won’t blame me when I tell you that I want to live there.
Please share your favorites with us in the comment box below.
Today, we welcomed nine new students to Evergreen. Some were two years old, three, four and older. First thing in the morning, I could see a wee bit of excitement and a boat load of apprehension in each one’s eyes. Imagine being dropped into an unfamiliar environment filled with strangers. Grownups call it ‘culture shock.’ We expect so much from our children! On the outside, they put up brave faces. Inside, they were asking: Where am I? What do I do here? How long will I be here? Will it be safe? Will I be loved?
And then, suddenly, there is a kindly teacher and a warm face. There is something interesting to do. A picture to paint. A tower to build. A friend to talk to. It is such a joy to see anxious students’ faces unclench. And then the first smile.
For parents, the first day of school can be just as nerve wracking. Our babies depend on us for everything: food, shelter and love. We are biologically programed to protect our children. Should we override these instincts? Do we want our children in a place that is working to make them independent from us? Our brains tell us that we need to help our children grow into confident, independent, self-assured and capable beings. Our hearts tell us to hold them safe (until college, at least). Letting go is the hardest part of parenting. I know from experience– ask my son.
The transition to a new school can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks. Different children react differently to new environments. Changes in routine are not easy and we do not expect children to adapt right away. It is a process that takes time, patience and love. It is important to establish consistency and predictability in classrooms. Consistently gentle and kind teachers. Consistently welcoming friends. Trust is won through actions.
The start of school can be both the most stressful and the most joyful time of the year. We love introducing our students to new experiences, new ideas and new friends. And together, we will have a great year.
Enjoy your year in school, too!