A forth-grade teacher recently told his students not to ask any questions until he was finished teaching a certain section of a text. One little girl raised her hand and meekly said, “But I already have a question, and if I can’t ask it, I won’t be able to concentrate and by the time you are finished I’ll forget what I wanted to ask!”
We make the mistake of thinking that children are miniature adults, capable of learning and behaving the way we expect them to in the classroom. This is much like expecting a fruit tree to bear fruit immediately after we have planted it. Children can only learn when we provide them with the right conditions that are necessary for them to be receptive to learning.
The most important thing for a teacher to consider is not how much information and material he can put into the child, but rather what is coming forth from the child. Does the child have a desire to learn? Is the child asking questions? Is the child curious? Is he expressing his own ideas and opinions? When this curiosity and interest are encouraged, the child can be engaged in learning. If stuffing a child with information is the agenda, it’s only a matter of time before the child’s interest will be suffocated, and learning will turn into a dry exercise of accumulating information for receiving a grade. Even worse, the child will cease to care, even about the grade. A child’s questioning should be welcomed. A child’s questions give the teacher a window into the way the child is thinking and help the teacher understand what the child needs.
In order for children to care about learning, they need to be able to have integrative thinking. This kind of thinking only begins to develop in a child after the age of 5, and then the child needs much practice in developing it. We cannot expect a child to care about learning, studying for exams, or doing homework when this has not yet become his own agenda. He first must grow into the ability to consider other sides of an issue so that he can choose the right thing to do.
This is not something that is learned, but is rather the fruit of healthy development. In fact, children naturally become antagonistic to a person who is imposing order on them, unless the right context is established. This right context is called attachment. When the child is actively attaching to his teacher, he will learn, listen, do his homework, and study for tests simply because he loves his teacher and wants to please him. This is the power of the attachment instinct.
When the teacher conveys to his student, “I have no time for your questions; what I have to teach is more important than what you have to say; you are only my student when you know how to behave,” the child cannot attach to him because there is no room for him in the relationship. The child must come to love his teacher if learning is to take place before the child is mature enough to take responsibility for his learning. What the child must hear and feel from the teacher is, “Your questions and ideas are important to me; I am here to take care of your needs; you are my student regardless of how you behave,” the child will learn and behave out of love for his teacher. These are instincts that come with the child. This is the source of the teacher’s authority and power to teach. If we would invest ourselves into transforming our classrooms and schoolyards into a safe, secure home base for children to easily attach to their teachers, this would go a long way in reducing the aggression in our schools and freeing children’s inborn creativity, love of learning and natural desire to be good (for those to whom they are attached).
Shoshana Hayman is Director of Life Center www.lifecenter.org.il, Faculty Member of the Neufeld Institute, Canada, and Lecturer at the Lander Institute Jerusalem Academic Center.