My Turn: The joy of teaching

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2012

By Kim Petty

I teach third grade, and there are 19 children who count on me every day to teach them literature and grammar and writing. (They also count on me to supply Band-Aids or dispense Jolly Ranchers occasionally). We spend a good part of everyday together in a learning environment.
Our classroom is dynamic; sometimes it is within the four walls of Salisbury Academy: the gymnasium, the lunch table, the third grade room, the library, or the music cottage. Other “classrooms” include a tree beside the kindergarten building, The Old Stone House, Trinity Oaks Nursing Home, the playground, Waterworks, the Norvell Theater, or any other spot in our community where we can engage.
Providing both a stimulating environment and rich, cohesive content is an effective combination for learning. Engaged students are like sponges, absorbing information as fast as an effective teacher can present it. But if merely dispensing information is the supreme goal of teaching, Google can replace all teachers everywhere.
Knowing promotes the pondering necessary for critical thinking. Why did Hans Christian Andersen pen “The Little Match Girl?” What was his purpose in writing the story in just those words, in just that way, at that time? What does it all have to do with us today in 21st century America? Is it an important story? Why? What can compassion for a girl in a long ago story propel us to do today? Do we dare ask third graders those questions? Of course we do!
When children are educated in academics, character, and faith, they can be guided to connect the dots between knowing, thinking critically, and doing. That’s the best part of my job: the moments when students have mentally constructed the dot-to-dot picture.
In elementary school, children hear “The Little Match Girl” and decide she needs shoes, or food, or a family to take her in. Because their “classroom” has taken them beyond the bricks and mortar of a school building, they may extrapolate that there are little girls in Rowan County who need all the same things. Then they act. They give food to Rowan Helping Ministries or earn money to buy hats and gloves for needy people.
Granted, the pictures they create become more sophisticated as children grow and develop. Possessing prior knowledge and experiences, they learn to judge the value and relevance of new knowledge and experiences. Thinking critically is best cultivated in a framework of high moral and academic expectations, readying students for the 21st century skills they will employ for the rest of their lives. Critical thinking will help them deal with personal challenges by responding rather than reacting. Community and global challenges will require problem solving and strategic thinking. Teaching them to think critically now prepares them to lead in the future.
Guiding children to connect the dots is a very satisfying endeavor, especially in a well-rounded environment that approaches the child thoughtfully and intentionally. I often tell people I lead a charmed life. I get to do what I love (teach), in a place I love (Salisbury Academy), with children I love (third graders).
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