Friday, 10 June 2011

"The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.” H. L. Mencken

“The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.”
H. L. Mencken
This quote comes from “Prejudices: Third Series” by H L Mencken. It was tweeted by Montberte (Steve Cushing)

More of the quote….

“The business of dealing with children, in fact, demands a certain childishness of mind. The best teacher, until one comes to adult pupils, is not the one who knows most, but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and the wonderful which slips easiest into the infantile comprehension. A man of high intelligence, may accomplish the thing by a conscious intellectual feat. But it is vastly easier to the man (or woman) whose habits of mind are naturally on the plane of the child’s. The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.

I have seen, in my career, skilled teachers who have been able to do exactly what Mencken suggested. They were able to break down lessons in such a way as to make it more easily understood by the children in their classes. They instilled the excitement of discovery in the minds of the children in their care and seemed to know what was achievable by the children and how to challenge them.

I would view the word ‘childlike’ as not being childish in the sense of immature rather as having an empathy for the good qualities of a child’s mind in terms of understanding. I would challenge Mencken on his separation of people of high intelligence. Some of these teachers I have known were quite intelligent yet had a natural affinity for the mind of a child.

It was my hope to emulate such teachers and capture the excitement of children whenever possible. I’ll give one example of an unplanned experience shared with one of my classes.

"The best teacher of children, in brief, is one who is essentially childlike.”

I was in a school where grass was at a minimum and asphalt reigned supreme. Our school’s assembly had finished and it was time for classes to return to their rooms. Leading the class, I suddenly asked them to stop then gathered them around a crack in the asphalt.

“What can you see?” I asked as I pointed to the crack.

“Ants”, came the reply.

Ants were swarming out of the crack on this warm day. Some had wings. I explained this was how ants spread. The flying ants would pair in an attempt to found new colonies. I explained normally ants would climb an object then launch themselves into flight.

“Watch,” I suggested as I poked a small stick into the crack near the ant hole.

To the excitement of the class, the winged ants started climbing and launching into flight.
I could have explained this in class, held up photos, shown videos but that random encounter on the playground impressed the children more than any planned lesson. They returned to the class excited about what they had seen and wanting to know more about the ants.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to go off on some tangent when a spur of the moment opportunity presented itself. My reward has been parents complimenting me for their child’s excitement on arriving home, not for the normal lessons but for the unexpected lessons. No, students didn’t outscore the children in other classes in testing but feedback has shown they loved being in my class.
Perhaps I was childlike. All I know is I could get as excited as the children for some serendipitous experience.

Veni, vidi, didici
I came, I saw that, I have learned

 P.S. I must have done something right in my career. Most of my friends on Facebook are former students. 

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