383. Not Teaching

I spent this evening not teaching. There I was, with Molly, a five year old girl who didn’t know some things I did know, and who “knew” some things I knew weren’t true, and I let it be. Being the chronic compulsive teacher I am, I really felt like teaching, but it just wasn’t the right thing to do at the time. She had just started kindergarten, and like most people starting kindergarten, she was quite tentative about the whole idea of school. She didn’t need to spend a Saturday evening being taught. She needed some down time.
And so when Molly explained to me that banks keep your money and don’t do anything with it, I replied, “Oh. I thought they did something with it.” That’s all. I gave her lots of freedom to be an expert; school was already giving her the impression that she didn’t know much, and I was not about to reinforce that impression. She can learn about banks later.
Of course, when I say I didn’t “teach,” it’s a matter of semantics. I had a puzzle conspicuously lying on my coffee table when Molly came. It had a “magic mirror” that was supposed to create interesting images when you put it on the dotted lines on the picture. Molly spontaneously started putting the puzzle together the moment she saw it. I watched her put it together, and when she was done, I asked her why they thought putting the mirror on the dotted line would do anything special. So she had fun trying it. Is having a puzzle on the coffee table a form of teaching?
When Molly asked me if I’d like to see her make the alphabet with her body, I said, “Yes.” She subsequently lay down on the living room rug, and made an A by putting her arms and legs in position. Then she went on to B. By C, she had to sing the alphabet to figure out which letter came next. Not every letter she made was recognizable to me, but I could usually tell what she was trying to do. The main thing I felt that I needed to do was avoid “teaching” her.
We talked. Molly is very verbal, and so am I. There was hardly a quiet moment while she was at my apartment. Neither of us felt like being quiet, although she did talk enough to get me quieter than I usually am. My television doesn’t tune in to more than one channel, and even that one doesn’t work too well. I know from past experiences with Molly that she doesn’t say much when the television is on. So maybe not having cable television was a form of “teaching.”
If you’re a kindergarten teacher, maybe the quotation marks I put around the word “teaching” bother you. Maybe what I was doing with Molly was teaching, not “teaching.” Maybe Molly had given herself homework – to work on her visual perception by playing with a puzzle, and to practice the alphabet. Never having taught kindergarten, I don’t know to what degree I was teaching.
Once, I substituted for a kindergarten teacher for about two hours. It exhausted me. Kindergarten teaching has always seemed beyond me. But I’ve known kindergarten teachers who have assured me that they feel the same way about teaching older children. Different strokes for different folks.

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