Thursday, April 24, 2008

Everything I've Ever Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten - Part 1 - Communication

This has been an intense year for me academically. I've been in classes for about sixteen months straight, and have had a heavy load for almost every semester that fell into those months. Of course, I have had breaks, but I spent my breaks preparing for teaching or just sleeping for hours on end.

That has meant that I have had very little time for casual reflections on my teaching experiences. I frequently reflect on my teaching, of course, but it is usually reflection on how to change a lesson or work with an individual child who is struggling. I get to share my stories with friends and family in passing, but haven't had the time to record my experiences. It's an itch that needed to be scratched. And, as I reach the final two weeks of my student teaching (and college!) experience, I'm realizing that I have very little time left to reflect on what I've learned from Kindergarten.

I've always believed that I had a knack for understanding and communicating with a variety of people. The parenting choices that my mom and dad made when I was a child prepared me for the diversity in our country and our world. But, I've learned a lot about communication from this experience. For instance, I've had to learn how to explain some pretty complicated things to very little people. Sometimes, I have to search the Internet for the answers to my five and six-year-olds questions, then translate the information in a way that is developmentally appropriate before I can answer the question "Yes, but what actually happens inside the egg, Miss Hain?"

I've also learned the sandwich technique, which proves useful in parent-teacher conferences, and in every aspect of my life. Making a criticism sandwich with two delicious pieces of complimentary bread, and sometimes even a schmoozy spread as well (depending on the situation), works wonders! And, none of it is lying, it's just a way of lessening the negative response that criticisms sometimes elicit from parents, or people in general: "Bob is a very bright child. On his best days, he asks truly insightful questions, and shares some of the most thoughtful ideas in the class! However, he sometimes has trouble committing himself to his work. It would be very helpful if you talked to him about the importance of working through things that are challenging for him. I know that the issues that we have had in the class will be resolved quickly, because Bob is so smart, and has such a good heart. I know he will go very far in school, and in this world if he commits to his education." It works almost every time.

Teaching has also been my first opportunity to work in a professional field. Previously, I worked in a restaurant, at a bookstore, and babysat for individual families. My student teaching experience is teaching me how to collaborate and work with a variety of people in a professional way. I have gained more tolerance for a wider variety of people, because I have to work with them, and have sought to make the best of the situation, and take it as a chance to grow as a human being. I have established positive relationships with people in many different positions at the school (from the cafeteria workers, to the special education teachers, to the centers teachers, to my teaching team, to the principal). I have learned to communicate with the grumpy teachers, the sarcastic teachers, the crazy teachers, the I'm-A-Perky-Morning-Person teachers, and even the I-Don't-Really-Want-To-Be-A-Teacher teachers. The experience has made me (slightly) less socially awkward, and (slightly) more outgoing as well. I have found my voice when working with other people, and am able to contribute to the community that I work in in a positive way. I have found that my co-workers are receptive to my suggestions and really listen to my contributions, and, in turn, I find myself listening better and becoming more flexible when it comes to collaboration.

I have no fantastic ending to this post. It's not a formal paper, so I don't really feel pressured to provide one. But, keep your eyes peeled, because I am going to try to post more often now, switching up the topics, and talking about how teaching Kindergarten has changed my life. Who thought I would go to college, only to find out that it really is true that everything I ever really needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?