I want to work with children

6 Apr

This is the mantra of many teachers and would be teachers (and, I’m sure, a whole host of other well-meaning adults seeking a profession full of meaning and purpose). It was even what I said and thought when I began my teaching career.

But I soon came to learn that this idea seemed a bit backwards. I often wondered at my sudden change in views on my teaching career. And now I understand why.

I just got done reading a passage in Teach Your Own by John Holt and had to rush to my computer to write it down and share it with you. It totally sums up what I have been puzzling over since I quit professional teaching.

The other day a young person wrote me saying, “I want to work with children.” Such letters come often. They make me want to say, “What you really mean is, you want to work on children. You want to do things to them, or for them–wonderful things, no doubt–which you think will help them. What’s more, you want to do these things whether the children want them done or not. What makes you think they need you so much? If you really want to work with children, then why not find some work worth doing, work you believe in for its own sake, and then find a way to make it possible for children–if they want to–to do that work with you.

The difference is cruical. The reason my work with the leaves and worms [he tells this story in the preceeding paragraphs] was interesting and exciting to those boys was precisely that it was my work, something I was doing for my good, not theirs.  It was not some sort of “project” that I had cooked up because I thought they might be interested in it. I wasn’t out there raking up leaves in the hope that some children might see me and want to join in. I never asked them to help, never even hinted; they insisted on helping me. All I did for them–which may be more than many adults might have done–was to say that if they really wanted that much to help me, then they could. Which is exactly the choice I would like to see the adult world offer to all children.

I really can’t say it better than that. It is exactly why unschooling works so well. It is exactly why, once we let our children “help” us, we realize they are much more competent and capable than we had ever given them credit. This is exactly why we should just do what we need to do in our lives and let our children be as involved in our daily activities as they want to be.

2 Responses to “I want to work with children”

  1. mymisha April 13, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    This is an interesting perspective on teaching. I think if we let our kids be individuals and explore their interests more vs. “working with them”, we would see many success stories. I would have to agree with you here.

  2. Adrian Dent May 25, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    John Holt is quite brilliant. I am a qualified teacher, and I am homeschooling my own children. Our homeschool program consists mainly of reading together and talking about stuff we see, as well as food gardening and playing games.
    I absolutely see the value of what Holt is saying. And yet, I am a teacher. In spite of teachers college trying to re-lable teachers as “learning facilitators” or whatever other jargon, there is still more “sage on the stage” work going on than “guide by your side”.
    School-schooling has always been a poor cousin to living within a community. Having said this, I hope that it is better for students to have a teacher within the school system who believes in the freer less structured forms of education generally favoured by home-schoolers than to be stuck with a teacher who sees “top down” instruction as the be all and end all of education.
    And having spent time at University with the people who want to become teachers, I have to say there are probably 5% intelligent, thoughtful, caring teachers out there, and the rest are either idiots, or in it for the “short working hours and good holidays.”

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