August has arrived with the excitement and preparation of a new school year about to begin. This past year, the coronavirus turned parents into classroom teachers. Even as a professional teacher it wasn’t easy to teach my two sons. I was Mom at home, and they didn’t want to sit with me and do what they did in the classroom where they had friends to interact with during learning. The firmer I became, the more resistant they were. If I made it too much fun, my efforts turned into playtime that I couldn't turn off. If impatient, my boys withdrew, and the more control I projected, the less I had. Over the years, I learned that the easiest way to reach children, including my own, was to first connect with them emotionally. Once I made that connection, their minds were open to learning and the academic challenges that awaited them.
Now that my grandson and granddaughters will begin a new school year, I am filled with fond memories of the first day of school with my classroom children. Once they were seated at their assigned desk, they would be looking at me with a mixture of feelings, and I would grab the moment by telling them not to trust me, that trust was something I had to earn. I told them I would always listen to them and hear what they said, but I also expected them to do the same for me. We talked about respecting each other’s thoughts and feelings and spoke of being a family in my classroom where we would look after each other. After confusing them with an open, somewhat humorous, and loving conversation, instead of their academic schedule, I told them that we were now going to play a game and that they couldn't help me unless I asked for it. That thought instantly got their attention. When I glanced at the first child in front of me, I would ask him or her to look into my eyes. Not an easy thing for even adults. When a pair of eyes met mine, I smiled and looked deeply into them. I asked the child their name and repeated it several times so the class would remember it too. I complimented the child on the beauty of their eyes or a quality I could recognize in them that made them smile. The longer I held their gaze, repeated their name, and praised them, the less resistance I felt. Once I learned a new name, I had to rename all the previous children's names. Whenever I found myself stuck, my students were anxious to tell me the answer but held back, enjoying my struggle and delighting in the creative way I remembered an unusual name.
To fully connect to my students, I knew I needed to share something about myself, something they could relate to at their age. I told them how a bully in St. Paul, Minnesota blocked the sidewalk so I couldn't walk home, how another boy tripped me on the ice and knocked out my two front baby teeth. We talked about name-calling and how it empowers the person doing it, and how hurtful words make us feel if we accept them. The children began to share their uncomfortable experiences, and I listened and sympathized. When we connect to our children emotionally, they feel safe with whatever emotion they are feeling. Share your hidden stories, and your child will open up to you and love you for it. The experts say our emotion influences the cognitive processes in humans: including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving. When children can freely express their feelings, the damaging ones like anger, worry, sadness, and fear won’t silently dictate their lives. Learning begins when we live in harmony with our feelings, and that starts with trusting someone and sharing with them without being judged.
This past year has not been easy for parents as they took on the role of the classroom teacher, and our children also suffered as they faced unexpected challenges both academically and socially that they were not prepared for. Learning and teaching were tested beyond our limitations, and at times we became outrageously creative in the process. We did what worked and we didn't give up trying. Success should inspire creativity, and with knowledge and experience, our children will gain the wisdom to guide them throughout their life. I wish you all a happy, healthy, and successful school year.