Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Becoming a Child Whisperer

Sometime ago there was a pretty good Robert Redford movie called The Horse Whisperer, in which a gentle, soft spoken man gently woos a wild horse to obedience through gentleness instead of the typical horse breaking methods. The end result for each method, controlling the horse, is the same, but the process for each is fundamentally different. What I am attempting to achieve in the classroom is a monumental task. The twenty six little minds and bodies in my class would rather be playing under the mango tree than answering comprehension questions. How do I get them to respond to my directions? My goal is to woo them. Children need lots of physical affection; it means more to a child than anything. Touching them on the head, their shoulders, giving hugs and squeezes and telling them they are loved is paramount to gaining their trust and their attention. I believe that as a teacher, I stand in the place of Christ. In Loco Christus. I represent Him in my teaching, even when my teaching is bad...a scary thought. Christ's love compels me to pour out my affection for them in the way that He poured out His love for me. When their cup runneth over, I am able to instruct them and they are ready to listen. But I think that often teachers are tempted to think that they have earned the right to be heard because they have written lesson plans and are now standing in front of the class. But standing in the teacher's place doesn't move 26 hearts to listen. Only love can move that mountain. And that mountain is not the only barrier, the students' lack of focus is another. I find it fascinating that the first thing we are moved to do when confronted with a daydreaming student is to call attention the erring child. " Zak, can I have your attention, please?" But Susie is sitting right next to him, doing the very thing she was asked to do...and she is left unnoticed. Why do we give our attention, a commodity highly sought after in the classroom, to the student who is not doing the right thing? Instead of correcting Zak, we could praise Susie, "Susie, I really like the way you are sitting and ready to learn, thank you." This seems like a more effective use of words. When this method is employed, the next scene is, without fail, one of my favorites. Suddenly, 24 little bodies scamper about trying to do whatever Susie was doing. Instead of wasting my words in a frustrated attempt to correct a wandering mind (for the third time today), I have used them to bless a little one who is doing the right thing. In this way, I hope that I am gently wooing them to return my love with their focus and attention. Sure, I could gain their attention through threats, punishment, belittling and a clever reward system. But this is horse-breaking. And I want more than attention; I want affection. I want them to begin to love what I love and give their attention willingly. I believe that to stand In Loco Christus, I must be the child whisperer that He was.