359. Exceptions

There were certain things I tried as a teacher, and they worked so well that I tried them every year, and they worked almost every year. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be like Mr. Goldman, my eighth grade Latin teacher, and become so predictable that people would tell jokes about me. I didn’t want the class clown to do nasty impressions of me when I wasn’t around. But come to think of it, I have fond memories of Mr. Goldman now, and even though it wasn’t cool to like that harmonica-toting weirdo, he was memorable. I secretly liked him, and I still remember what he taught. Maybe, like Mr. Goldman, I was the subject of some jokes some children told behind my back. But it’s all right. And I hope Mr. Goldman didn’t mind that we told jokes about him.
When I first started teaching second grade, I wrote a song for my class for Halloween. The class loved the song, and I’ve taught it to every class since then. In fact, it’s been used in other classes around the country. It’s even the title song on someone else’s children’s audiotape. But one year, there was a boy in my class who was scared by the song (ironically, the song was called “I’m Not Scared”). He did not want to be in the room when we sang it. And as an inclusive teacher, I didn’t want the poor kid to have to be away from the class; that would make it seem as if he was being punished for expressing his feelings.
Another year, I learned, in a workshop, that classical adagios and largos are supposed to be played at a tempo that is the same as the tempo of the human heart at rest, and could be used to create a good mood in the classroom. From then on, I often played tapes of classical adagios and largos when children were supposed to have peaceful time to read or write. But one year there was one child who told me that she could not concentrate while that music was on. On the one hand, she was not that great at concentrating anyway, and I didn’t want to believe that she was a reason not to do what usually worked so well. But on the other hand, I wanted her to know about my commitment to making the classroom a good place for all children to learn. And so I sadly put the tapes away when she was there.
It’s hard, as teachers and as parents, to put away some of our favorite ideas. Some of those ideas came after lots of hard work and/or inspiration. What has worked well in many situations ought to continue to work well, and ought to be applicable all the time. But paying attention to children works well, and sometimes what we learn when we pay attention to them teaches us to change what we do. Even if what we do usually works. Even if we’re fond of it.

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