About everything really. About me, about God, about what I’m doing with my life, about my ability to kind of, sort of speak Spanish, about whether I can actually call myself a runner, a teacher, etc., but this week was especially rough.
You see, sometimes I inexplicably get the blues. I used to think it was because I was so stressed out or because my family’s a little all over the place, but now I’m starting to realize it might just be the way I am. Sometimes I’m inexplicably happy. Other times, I’m inexplicably sad. This week I was pretty down in the dumps on Wednesday and Thursday.
I’m not really sure why, but on Wednesday I went to bed crying, wondering if God really wants me to be a teacher (or if I really want to be a teacher for that matter). Nothing out of the normal had really happened that day. In fact, compared to other days I’ve had with my students, where we’ve had to have discussions about appropriate vs. inappropriate touching and the like, Wednesday was pretty chill. I think what really got me down were not my students or actually teaching, but a workshop that was held after school about how young children’s brains develop. During the workshop, the child life specialist, who I think is an absolutely wonderful person (don’t get me wrong), talked about Vgotsky’s proximal zone of development, Chess, Thomas, et al.’s research on temperament, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I’ve taken three psychology classes at Swarthmore (intro, educational, and developmental) so I had at least some knowledge about each of these theories, especially Vgotsky’s. However, the child life specialist (who, once again, I think is great) gave a pretty simplified overview of each of these theories (perhaps because other teachers have less of a background in educational psychology), and then asked us to immediately apply them to one of the students in our class who we are struggling with. It was definitely a good exercise, but, you all, Swarthmore’s gotten to me. The whole time she was laying out these really simplified psychological models, I wanted to question them, challenge them, and see where their problems lie. I literally sat there thinking in my head, while she drew out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, This model is so problematic. People throughout history have achieved self-actualization and not had their basic needs met. What about any and every activist or prisoner who has gone a hunger strike for a cause or belief? What about students who go to school hungry or with a broken family, and still manage to learn? The basic levels do not always have be meet for a person to feel a sense of love, belonging, esteem, or actualization.
But while I was thinking this pretty steady stream of critical thoughts, the child life specialist said that she bought into this model more or less 100% and didn’t really give us time to question it, only to apply it. At the end, she did give us time to ask questions, and I asked how one could tell the difference between a child having a difficult temperament and having some sort of underlying disorder like ADHD or even autism? Her reply was that it was not my business as a teacher to diagnose students and that if I had a question about a student, I should talk to the parents, and refer the student to the school psychologist or counselor.
Talk about a frustrating response. I think my eyes welled up with tears at this point. The child life specialist saw this and asked if her response had answered my question. I replied that I had more or less meant theoretically. What is the theoretical difference between a difficult temperament and some kind of disorder like ADHD? She laughed at this point, when I said theoretically. She did give a response as well, which I half listened to, but at this point, I was more just trying to keep myself from crying in front of everyone. Part of me really just wanted to storm out, but, of course, that would have been incredibly disrespectful.
You guys, when did it become a bad thing to ask a theoretical question, to be intellectual curious, and want to learn more? Maybe I’m just used to being at Swarthmore, but I can’t learn something now without thinking about it critically and pushing it’s boundaries. I can’t buy into a theory without analyzing it first. It’s in my blood now.
But the thing is, I also want to do something that usually isn’t perceived as too intellectually rigorous in our society. I want to be a first grade teacher. I want to teach little people who are only 124 cm tall and still learning how to read. I want to teach lessons about addition, subtraction, and 3D shapes. I want to help kids tie their shoe laces, and pick themselves up after a fall off the monkey bars, But sometimes, I am frustrated to the point of tears because I feel like the worlds of higher academia and early elementary education are leagues apart. So apart that I have to chose one over the other.
You guys, I don’t want to do this. I want to be a first grade teacher more than anything, but I also want to keep being intellectual. I want to keep learning, challenging, and re-working theories. I want to keep reading research articles and seeing how they do or don’t fit together. I want to keep reconsidering how the world works, and how my presuppositions are not always accurate. It would be a whole other story if I were becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, or even a pastor, but I feel like becoming a first grade teacher is initially perceived by others as something cutesy or motherly or fun (which it is, but I digress…), not as something to be taken seriously.
I’m going to say it here now, and hope I never have to say it again. I don’t want to be a cutesy, let-me-put-leprechauns-all-over-this-worksheet-because-it’s-almost-Saint-Patrick’s-Day first grade teacher. Yes, I want to make my students feel loved, valued, and secure, but I also want them to feel respected, for their intelligence, their curiosity, their interpersonal skills, and their hard work. I want to challenge them and challenge myself, every day. I want to keep being able to pose hard questions to colleagues and have my world view reworked by theirs. I don’t ever want to be done growing, learning, or acquiring new information.
I want to be a first grader teacher. But I also want to be taken seriously for my intellect. Dear colleagues, dear society, dear my own self, please don’t deny me that.
Give that theoretical question a chance.
P.S. Lest you think I’m always depressed, this weekend was wonderful. Watched a solid five hours of Spanish and English television with the host sisters, ate brunch with an American family from the school who I house sat for over spring break, played countless games of uno with my youngest host sister, went to Quaker meeting, read outside with friends, and ran all the way up the mountain to the reserve, and just now, tried to teach the youngest sis how to speak in a British accent. Happiness.
I only have the blues sometimes.