Posted: Mar 18, 2010 8:47 am
by GreatApe
Personally, I've had to revisit the topic of this thread discussion based upon my recent drastic change in cultures. I moved to China to help run a Language Centre and to teach, and I KNEW it was going to present some very challenging and "uncomfortable" situations for me as a 43 year old teacher of American adolescents and young adults. I moved to China never having taught below the 8th grade level, and with most of my teaching experience (11 years of it) coming from grades 9 and 11, as well as freshmen at the university level.

Now, in China, I still mostly teach English to young adults and young professionals, but I also teach four times a week at a local kindergarten, and I've been able to experience teaching very young children for the first time in my professional career. It was initially extremely uncomfortable for me because I knew it was well outside of my teaching "comfort zone," but now, even though it's only for three 20 minute classes a day, four times a week, I find myself REALLY enjoying it! I've come to realize it's because these kids are really very bright. They are full of enthusiasm, energy and their eyes and faces light up like crazy when they truly understand something that you're attempting to convey. They generally want to please their teachers, and most of them go out of their way to learn, and to reach out, and to work to communicate.

I have to admit, the grade level was just ONE of the reasons I was initially uncomfortable. Reasons two and three being: I was in a completely new and strange environment, as a foreigner, and all eyes were on me (as a teacher and as an "oddity"); and three, I'm a fairly shy and introverted man. I'm not exactly boling over with enthusiasm to make a spectacle of myself. But as all teachers know, you have to wear many different hats, and there's always the element that I refer to as "The Dancing Bear." This is when the teacher willingly reduces himself/herself to doing whatever it takes to get the lesson across and bring it to the students effectively -- so that they are entirely engagd and learning is definitely taking place. This is where the teacher is willing (even eager, sometimes!) to make a complete "ass" of themselves and basically go to just about any length with no concern for embarrassment or looking ridiculous. You cast all cares aside and get down on the ground and embrace your "inner fool" and make faces, use wild gestures, over-emphasize ... hop, skip and jump ... make stupid sounds ... basically forget all manner of professional courtesy and re-live your childhood vicariously through the children.

One thing that my kindergarten experience has taught me so far, is that I see how crucial it is to actively engage children's minds, to keep them busy, entertained, and progressing. They do that here in China, but it generally stops later in grade school when "real school" begins. Kindergarten is for fun, and games and playing. "Real school" is for learning, and "serious study." It doesn't take long here before the "fun" of education gets knocked out of most students, and whether I'm teaching in America or China, one thing remains the same, having the fun knocked out of learning is NOT the best way to generationally "grow" intelligent adults. This becomes particularly true when you're trying to teach (or acquire) a second language. I play language board games with my older students now, as well as my Business students. I just mold the games to fit the subject, and to fit the student's age. So far I've received nothing but positive responses, and most of my students keep coming back, so I think it's working.

I'm currently re-reading Susan Blackmore's "The Meme Machine" and I keep going back to her discussion, as well as the points made by Dr. Dawkins in the book's Introduction, about the importance of "imitation" and how it is a natural and vital way to convey and acquire information. Human beings basically never stop doing it, and, as "independent" or "free-thinking" as atheists tend to be, I'm sure we can all think of many, many examples where we learned a wide variety of things from watching or copying or following the actions of others. This children are definitely not "stupid" ... it's just that once "real education" gets turned over to the "adults," the fun of learning is often the first thing to leave.

Just my .02 ... great topic!