Education and Work Prep School:
Entering a MAED Program and Thinking about an Elementary Education
Instructor of Psychology
Leeward Community College
Dedicated to all students, past and future. For all their dreams—may they all come true.
I was nervous like a new college student on the first day of orientation. Entering a Masters program at middle-age was like going backwards in time. I had earned my anthropology MA many years ago at the young age of 28. Even then, I spent a considerable amount of effort doing my field research and writing my thesis. I dreaded grad school, not wishing to go through that hardship again.
“What if everyone is young enough to be my child?” I wondered as I looked around at the students who arrived one by one at orientation. And much to my horror, they were indeed young. A few students told me that they had just finished their BA and were in their early twenties. But when the first day of class came around, my age became the average age of the women in the classroom.
“What happened to the guys?” I asked.
“Guys don’t really dig teaching elementary ed. They gravitate towards high school,” one of the girls snickered.
“There is a guy, but he’s not really a guy. He’s kinda soft,” one of the girls told me, telling me about the absent male colleague.
“Do you think we scared him off?” I asked in a small voice, looking at the bold faces of the middle-aged women around me. They were a tough bunch, ready to take on the world. Some were former battered women who were survivors and divorced their husbands to start a new career. A few were single-moms who needed a good job to sustain them and their young children. A few were ambitious younger women who wanted to buy a home and get married—in that order. One was a former Air Force officer who was injured and was released from her job, gaining a way to get an education as a reward for her hard work and devotion. One was a woman who had returned to her hometown to live with her aged parents. “I quit my job. It was too hard on my body. I did construction work. I even did the planning of their shopping complex,” she informed us proudly. I glanced at her admiringly, thinking that instead of being an elementary teacher she would have been better off disciplining unruly high schoolers because she was of a solid build and would have commanded respect. Even without her hardhat I seemed easy to see her wearing it still. I smiled slightly.
In comparison, I felt like an immature never-married, never-mommy kind of person. Yet, in my own way, I was worldly. I could look into the eyes of a child and know how he or she felt. I saw through their eyes what adults seemed to be: often neglectful, self-centered, and unkind. I empathized with their daily suffering in school as uncomfortable situations, fears of homework, and peer pressure still haunted my dreams. I suffered the same maladies as some of my students who had ADHD or ADD, learning problems, and suffered from painful shyness.
In a way, as a counselor, I wept and felt angry along with my students. In the same way I shivered in fear when a teacher ranted and raved at a student. I felt very strongly the things that angered, saddened, and also delighted young children.
“You fit as an elementary teacher,” my younger sister teased. “You are still childish and like what they do. You will really get into their games and crafts. Why, you might be the one doing all the stuff and being so enthusiastic.”
I blushed. My sister was right. I had a tendency to be overenthusiastic, something that was frowned upon in the old days when teachers were stern and distant and very sophisticated. My old teachers had been models of propriety. They, even when they were in their late twenties, had been decades older than thought I could ever be, even in my forties.
My sister was a high school teacher, looking far younger than her years, almost like an overgrown teen. She was slim and pretty, choosing young dresses and outfits that would fit a teenager rather than a woman in her late thirties. With long, dark hair, and large eyes she was also a “young teacher”.
In contrast, even with my tendency towards exuberance, I was very stuffy and old-fashioned with morals born of the pre-Vatican era. I lived still in that way, in my very old-maidish way, choosing clothing that would offend no one, and surely no parent. I lived carefully so that no one could ever accuse me of immoral behavior. I was immaculate, and yet, I wished that sometimes I could be wild and crazy.
I knew that the 21st century had arrived. I could bring forth fresh ideas that were radical and strange, and yet, I could speak to the new audience, our new students. My head was filled with new activities. After seeing a school that advocated yoga in the classroom, my head buzzed with 10 minute activities for yoga, tai chi, instant hula, instant salsa, silly singing and dancing, and even impromptu bands with instruments made of garbage such as old plastic bottles and spoons, bottle caps, and cans.
I thought about instilling freegan values, a way of life where one could live on freebies—recycle, reuse and reduce. There were free samples of food galore where one could send away for items on the net without even using a stamp. Imagine living for weeks on free samples of food and cleaning one’s home with soap and cleaning products that came in the mail. Free activities, free fun stuff, and free educational materials and sessions were all there for my future students. How wonderful it would be to teach children that wealth is not counted in how much money one has but how much freedom one has by living without money for necessities and finding ways to have free and healthy fun.
I began to think of free and safe products and materials; discarded items, containers and packaging materials that could be recreated into art materials for our creative and eager children. Garbage art is a growing art form; admirers all over the world rave over it. Teachers would not have to dip into their pockets to buy school supplies and art materials if things found commonly at home could be converted into things of beauty.
Another idea I had was to create a peace garden, something akin to a victory garden. But instead, students, with their excess energy, would get a workout by maintaining a small fruit and vegetable garden to feed the homeless. What a wonderful tool it would be to instill values of helping those less fortunate, lessons in service learning and also in gardening. Gardening, if vigorous, can burn as many calories as jogging or light hiking. Think of how much money the school would save in getting a free PE work out during recess and lunch and after school and during school hours. It would also be an opportunity for ADHD students and those who need to move about to let off some steam and get into a peaceful mood.
A meditation center where quiet music, the sound of a water fountain, and chimes can bring calm to an anxious child could be requested by a student or visited by a class. This would allow children to lessen their stress and quiet down, much like naptime for kindergartners.
Meditation activities and peace-making techniques could be taught to young children so that making up and being friends would be more fun than bullying or teasing others. Even having pen friends in other countries to promote peaceful relationships can also occur. Imagine an American child forming friendships with children in the Middle East.
I am still young and green. I know that large-scale changes cannot occur, nor a single teacher implement a whole program change. Yet in my heart I have hope that class by class, year by year, as a classroom teacher, I can teach small bits of my philosophy on life and instill good values in children so that as they mature they will begin to change their world. Working with colleagues, teaching eventually in college, I could still continue to advocate a change, beginning early on in elementary school where beautiful, loving communities can form.
School should never be a place for violence, as in the case of Columbine High School. The classroom should never be a place where students feel ashamed, inferior, sad, or neglected. The school community should never be a place where fear and resentment abound. It should be a place that stands for sanctuary where children, like the children of old, escaped the harsh world briefly where they would have otherwise been put to work in the fields, factories, homes, or apprenticed to cruel masters. How happy those fortunate children must have felt, and how grateful they must have been to learn about things outside of their poor and miserable world. The wide worlds where strange and interesting cultures abounded in geography sessions, the stilted world of Shakespeare (where things were beautiful and theatrical), the realm of beauty in art class, the fascinating worlds of math and science, and many other worlds floated in the young pupil’s minds. In a matter of seven years or so until they graduated from grammar school, the children held their breaths.
Never again would they be able to be free to think; never again would they have the freedom to experience such fascinating worlds. Going to work, getting married young and having a large brood of children, women and men wore themselves out, never again dreaming of the world that the teacher introduced to them so long ago.
It is a shame that children in our world today do not appreciate their mandatory education, which is a privilege in much of the world where children too poor to pay for books and clothing forgo formal schooling. Female children who are not considered intelligent enough for schooling or who are restricted by religions that state that too much education can render them bad wives who question their husbands are cheated out of a proper education. In places in the Pacific, textbooks—those that our children throw about, scar, and dirty without any thought—are precious and shared by many children who cannot think to even own one for themselves.
If our own children can think of school as a place for respite where teachers, who understand their feelings and hardships, can provide them a place for rest and revivals, we would have done a good job as educators. It is indeed a hard world now. Just as children who were apprenticed or put to work too young in the past, our children are exposed to life’s cruelties early on. It was unthinkable to know about violence and abuse in my childhood, although whispers of domestic violence were always present. Terrorists, joblessness en mass, superbugs, drug abuse and trafficking, human trafficking, gang problems, and many other national problems are in the news daily, exposing our impressionable young children to the harsh realities of the real world.
Would it not be kind to at least give them an escape in the school world that is still connected to the real world and yet protected from it, giving them time to mature and become strong enough to face the real world when they are ready?
Our education must do double duty. Our schools must protect our youth from crime, abuse, and other dangers of the outside world. And yet, it must also prepare our children for the real world of work and the social world where humans must learn how to get along, work together, communicate well, and be global citizens. If equipped with skills of future diplomats and politicians, of future scientists and engineers, of future artists and writers or journalists, of humanitarians and conservationists, would the world not be better? Instead of standards and No Child Left Behind, what if each child felt valued for his or her unique skills?
There are stories of ADD and ADHD children who become strong leaders, CEOs, and innovators. There are children who were diagnosed with learning disabilities who become geniuses who are inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Children who did not seem to “fit” and some with autism have become artists and writers. Those who seemed too talkative or bold have become politicians and businessmen and businesswomen. If our schools found the strengths of each of the children and nurtured them like individual plants that grow differently and beautifully, would school not be a sanctuary, a green house where, protected from the ravages of disease and plague that is outside in the world, children would flourish in the best way they could?
We are all different—learners and teachers. Even teachers must be nurtured in the way they were meant to be. Religions teach that our gods love us as we are. We are forgiven for our sins, and we must go forward to enhance the positives and fade the negatives. Just as my journey, the search of the perfect career, has taken place with the loving gaze of my mum who has always encouraged me to find myself and to go where I need to go, adults must also be given the resources and the opportunities to find their own paths.
How happy we would be if we could easily change careers and live out our dreams each time and going onto the next phase. It could be a first then second then third career. We are mostly a Jack-of-all-trades. If we had not been diverse beings, we would have never survived in this harsh world. The most encouraging thing that one can do for others is to believe in them and give them the space to grow to reach their final goals. I wish to tell everyone who has lost a job or has felt a failure in a job or career that no one is a failure. We are all searching. And in this search is a journey to feel out our own potential. When we are able to feel our own potential and know our gifts, we are able share our gifts with others.
Like a large organism, we are all parts of a whole. Some are the head—leaders, government, thinkers, planners—and some are the body who are stable, supporting others. Some are like hands and arms, giving and doing for others like doctors and volunteers, and some are like the feet or the legs, going without giving thought to one’s personal safety—military, firemen, policemen. If we did not have all of them in our community, in our family, we would be nowhere as a civilization. When all children, all adults, all people are valued for their differences and their gifts, no matter how small, we are a healthy organism that will go forth and be at peace. Most of all, like the skin that covers all the parts, love encloses our body and soul, bringing everyone together in one mind.
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