It has always been my belief and practice that teachers should find ways to introduce material without the children realizing that they are learning. The basic approach is simple, spend time working in groups and figure out each child’s interest. If they like reading books about the ocean chances are if you use books about the ocean to support reading development there will be success. Today’s model for education is to disregard the needs and wants of children and attempt to teach them by sheer repetition and testing.

Over the years I have noticed that many children are interested in the game Chess. Not all play by the rules. For some children the King, Queen, Rook, Knight and Bishop are all just characters in a well created story and the chess board is the kingdom. A perfect time to introduce and focus on creative writing. Other children pick up the complex game of Chess quickly.

….and here is today’s story. There was a very shy boy in my class, not only shy he was clearly socially awkward. His mom told me that he really loves playing Chess and asked if she could bring in a Chess set so that he can play during the day. I sat down to play a match. My goal was not to beat this six year old, the goal was simply to get to know him better. He beat me in about four moves. We played again and he beat me quickly. I am no Master but I can usually hold my own while playing chess. So we played once more and I tried this time and I lost. I did notice that his classmates started to realize that the teacher was losing to a six year old. He started teaching other children how to play and before we knew it the room had five Chess sets and a handful of children learned how to play. Chess requires the children to use a wide range of math skills not to mention the ability to think ahead and remain organized. I was playing with my six year old challenger again and this time, in the middle of the game I knocked the board off the table. I wanted to see how he would react. I was expecting a meltdown of epic proportions. I said that we could just start over. He said “we don’t have start over, just help me pick up the pieces”. I watched in awe as he put every piece back on the board in the same spot they were before I knocked over the board. He memorized the layout of the board. He couldn’t recognize the alphabet or spell his name but clearly he had a fantastic ability to learn. I used chess as the jumping off point for most of his formal learning.

The progressive philosophy is not rocket science, in fact, it is education in its purest form. The focus is in on helping children learn to love the process of learning and not demanding that they learn what we have to teach them.

I played countless chess matches with him in the course of a year and I only won a handful of matches. He once walked in on Monday morning with a trophy. He came in second place at the local high school chess tournament.

Papa and Teacher- flashback

One week ago today I watched and held my wife as she pushed with all of her might to bring our son into our home. One week ago today I heard my son’s first cry. One week ago today I held my son for the first time. One week ago today I fell in love for the second time in five years. One week ago today I realized what it means to feel a sense of connection that can only be felt between parent and child. One week ago today I became a better man and that will make me a better teacher. One week ago today an eight pound being changed my life.

I have seen how hard it can be for parents to leave their children on the first day of school, especially if there are tears. I have hugged crying children assuring them that their parents will be back at the end of the day. They cry huge tears simply because they don’t want to leave their parents. Soon, everyone always calms down but for that moment in their life, all they want is to be with their mom or dad. I always feel for the parents that leave their children with me as they go to work and some leave with tears. Both parent and child know that everything will be alright but I don’t think that makes saying goodbye easier, even if its just for a school day. And now I understand.

I have always been honored and thankful that parents trust me with their children. Above all else I have always tried to make sure that children feel safe, nurtured and comfortable while in my classroom. While interacting with children I always try to imagine that their mom or dad is behind me, listening to what I am saying making sure I am genuine, honest ,fair, and heartfelt. If someone falls down, gets a splinter or loses a tooth it is important to take the time to comfort and sooth them. Thunderstorms are never easy in kindergarten. Children need to know that they are safe, loved and free from judgement before they can truly begin to learn.

So here is my Thank You to all of the parents that have had faith and trust in me to take care of their children. Thank You for trusting me to be a good man as well as a good educator. And now I join you in that trust, this past weekend I became a dad. I now understand why saying goodbye in the morning is hard. I now understand the bond that only parent and child share. The other day I left my wife and son at home for the first time and all I could think about was how I wish were back home with them. I want nothing more than for him to be safe and joyful and I imagine that is how all parents feel when they trust another person with their children. For years I was and am the person that parents trust and I never take that lightly. Now, I have a new understanding, I see my profession with new eyes and I have no doubt that becoming a dad will make me a better educator and a better man.