Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fostering Independence

Dear Teacher,
I love to go to you with all of my problems.  I love that you are always there to fix them for me.  When I told you that Sally wouldn't share the ball with me, you told her she has to.  When I needed help opening my chips, you were always there to do it.  When I need help on my work, I know you will be there to help me find the answer.  When my shoes need tied, you are just the one I want to go to.  Thanks for always being there to fix my problems for me.
Love Always,
The Dependent Student

Dear Teacher,
Thank you for NOT always solving my problems.  You were always there for me, but you gave me the tools to fix them myself.  When I told you Sally wouldn't share her ball with me, you told me how I should address Sally to take care of the problem myself. Now, I know how to handle conflict with friends and I don't need to rush to you when there is a problem.  When I needed help opening my chips, you taught me how.  At first my hands were not strong enough to pull the bag open, but with lots of practice, I can do it on my own.  When I needed help with my work, you reminded me to read the directions, go back and check my answers, sound words out.  You gave me the tools I need to do my work independently.  When my shoes needed tied, you taught me to tie them.  It took many lessons before I finally got it, but I am so proud of myself now because I know I can do it.  Thank you for not always doing it for me.  Thank you for teaching me how to be an independent, problem solver.
Love Always,
The Independent Student

I began my teaching career in preschool.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I began working with kids while I was in high school.  I started out in a classroom for three year-olds.  I thought those little kids were so darn cute!  So little!  So young! Babies really! The teacher in the room, Ms. Martha, was in her late sixties.  She has been teaching little kids all her life.  She would scold anybody who called her kids babies!  They were three!  They were capable!  They were not babies!  At first, I thought she was so harsh and callus.  She wanted these little tiny kids to put their own shoes on!  They had to clean up all their messes themselves.  She forbid anyone from carrying these little darlings.  She did not put up with crying or whining.  They had to make their own beds before nap time and put them away after.  I admit that when I started I felt bad for these little kids!  It didn't take long for me to see that even though she had high expectations for these kids, they always met them.  They could clean their messes.  They were capable of putting their own shoes on.  There was very rarely any crying or whining because they knew it would not work for them.  They made their beds and seemed to enjoy it.  The following year, I was moved to the four year old classroom.  This teacher was in her thirties and very sweet.  She had a different philosophy than Ms. Martha.  She viewed the kids as little babies who needed her help.  She had me cleaning their messes and putting on their shoes. I made the beds and put them away. There were constant tattles and whining.  Many of the kids were the same that I had in the three year-old room.  I knew they were capable.  The expectation had changed and so had they.  Working at the preschool helped me realize what kind of teacher I wanted to be; the kind with high expectations.  My classroom would foster independence.   I strive to do this everyday.

In the ten years I have been in first grade, I have seen a change in the children.  Every year, they seem younger and more immature.  We have farther to go to get them to that independent stage.  I have kids who cannot speak in proper sentences, "I go bathroom?" This is because they are not corrected at home.  Baby talk in first grade is not cute.  It needs to be corrected.  I have kids who cannot button their own pants.  I have had parents who do EVERYTHING for their children to the point where it has affected fine motor strength.  I have had first graders who expect me to wipe their noses!  How is this happening?
The other day, I was talking to my dad.  He was telling me about working when he was a kid.  When he was in first grade, he chopped fire wood.  I can't imagine my firsties with an ax!  How dangerous! When he was 12, he drove heavy machines at his family's sawmill.  I have a 12 year old.  There is no way I would let her drive!  That is just crazy!  I asked my dad if his family was crazy to let such young kids do such serious work.  He told me this was the norm.  His friends had these same type of chores.  Times have changed.  Expectations have changed.  What will the world be like for my children's children?  Will we have a future like in the movie Wallie where we are all obese and live in our own little bubbles?  It seems like a scary likelihood.
What can we do about it?  I try to teach my parents how to help create independence at home.  I give them realistic expectations for their kids.  They should be squeezing their own toothpaste on their toothbrush.  They can help load the dishwasher.  At school, I do not solve my students' problems for them.  I teach them to do it.  I will be honest, TEACHING them how to take care of problem takes ten times longer than just doing it for them.  Once they know how, my life becomes easier.  Second grade teachers will have a better year with them.  They are more confident and capable.  They quickly learn NOT to run to my with their problems.  They know what I will say, "How can you take care of it?"  I see them start to come to me, rethink it, and then try on their own.  If they try and can't, I am always there to help them.  I just expect them to TRY on their own before coming to me.  I also teach them the difference between tattling and telling.  Tattling is trying to get someone in trouble. Telling is when someone is hurt or could get hurt.  I always want them to come to me if someone is hurt or could get hurt because my job is to keep them safe.
That teacher in the four year-old classroom was doing her best.  She was trying her hardest and wanted only the best for those kids.  I was so fortunate to see these two vastly different approaches to teaching.  They have helped me as both a parent and a teacher.

How do you create independent students?  Do you agree that they seem to come in more needy each year?  Share your thoughts!


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