Are we listening?

A child sits alone with a ripped worksheet packet on his desk.
He appears to be singing or subvocalizing something though no one hears him.
Or, perhaps they’re ignoring him.
The teacher stands at the front of the room teaching on the SmartBoard.
The children follow along in their worksheets.
Except the child sitting alone.
He is in his own world.
No one engages him and he engages no one.

My heart aches for this child.
He is physically and emotionally removed from the class.

I ask him why his paper is ripped.
(It’s not an accidental rip.)
He says he did that on a different day.
When he had been frustrated about the work.
He tells me that he sometimes sits by himself because the work is too hard for him.
He later tells me that he sits by himself because the teacher thinks he talks too much during the lesson.  He says he does that because he wants to find out about the “lives of the other children”.

My first impulse is to rescue him from the wrongheaded approach in that classroom.
Reassure him that he’s OK.
That there is nothing wrong with him.
That he has a lot to offer the world.
That he can learn.
At the same time, I notice that he seems to be taking all of this in stride.
It’s another day in school for him.

Has he started to accept the picture that is being drawn of him?
Who they think he is?

So, I walk out of that classroom and do nothing.
I tell myself I can’t reasonably do anything about this now.
I’m the one in distress.
No one else seems to notice what’s taking place here.

And, no, it’s not about feel-good, mindless teaching.
It’s about heartfelt, sensitive teaching.
Teaching that is attuned to a child’s emotions as well as his intellect.
It’s about choosing our words and our actions carefully.
It’s about including all children rather than marginalizing the harder to teach.
Because, if we’re really listening, we will understand that all children pose a challenge to teachers.
We will know this if we understand that all children are unique.
All children learn differently, for different reasons at different times.

That is the real art of teaching.

But, are we listening?

Posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge.

10 thoughts on “Are we listening?

  1. I can hear what you are saying.
    I wasn't there and I don't know the teacher not the child, so the next is not to justify, but to wonder: may be listening is hard because there is too many to listen to, and too little time.


  2. I have been lucky to have a student teacher during the first semester of the school year. It's been very interesting to sit back and watch the kids without them knowing, without being the teacher who is “on.” I've done a lot of reflecting of my practices throughout this process. What would I do? Why? How will I help this new teacher learn how to handle different situations? It's a different thinking process when you have to decide your beliefs and then explain them to someone else. I have had the chance to really listen to the kids and make sure my beliefs are reflected in my teaching/classroom. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Yes, overburdened, overwhelmed, but, obligated to try new things for each student anyway. If he ripped that worksheet on another day, why sit alone with it today?
    Teaching is HARD, and we all make mistakes and miss students occasionally. But, we have to keep trying, and demanding progress toward greatness.


  4. Robin,
    Having an extra pair of hands, eyes, and ears in the classroom on occasion is so important. As long as that other person is there to observe without judging it can be so valuable for the teacher. Sometimes we get into a rut without realizing it and then it's time to step back. Thanks for commenting.


  5. Laura,
    What you say is so important. As teachers we are obligated to teach every child in our classroom. We have to find ways to do that no matter what. I feel it is a moral obligation. How is it that some teachers give up and give in? This wouldn't be an option if we assume a reflexive stance in our classrooms all the time, always striving to do better.


  6. Painful to read your post, Elisa. I don't think it's a matter of not having enough time….there is always time for kindness, especially in our classrooms, with the children in our care. I hope this young man does not give in…how sad that would be!


  7. You may have walked away physically, but you have done anything but walk away from this child. You have taken the appropriate next step, which is to reflect on what you noticed.

    What will you do with the incredibly astute insights you captured in this post?


  8. Hi Stacey,
    Thank you for commenting and for asking the million dollar question.

    I am planning to speak with the teacher about what I observed. I am particularly curious as to why there aren't more hands-on activities during math time. Some of this will happen indirectly so as not to single out a particular teacher; I don't have that kind of authority in this school. However, this is not the only classroom where I have observed math being taught this way, not to mention other subjects. I don't know if I've really answered your question with specifics but, as you seemed to have already guessed, I will not sit idly by when I see something as blatant as what I observed.

    I may be writing more about this topic in the future.


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