In education there are always different learning/teaching strategies popping up. I’m talking about things like “Whole Language Learning”, “Open Classrooms”, “Multi-age Classrooms”, or “Service Learning” just to name a few. Honestly, there are so many concepts that cycle through education that it’s hard to keep track of what’s hot and what’s not. They seem to cycle back around again and again, but keeping on top of what’s hot NOW is a job in itself.
While it’s important to keep an open mind and be aware of ways to give the children in your classroom the best education possible, it’s often hard to grab a hold of something that doesn’t speak to you- or incorporate something into your classroom that just doesn’t feel authentic.
At least that’s my humble opinion.
The “Service Learning” model is a concept that to ME gives a notion that the children are being taught to be empathetic and empowered, but I feel this concept has been become a tool that in most cases doesn’t REALLY teach children about true, authentic and personal “giving” of one’s time and energy.
Let me see if I can explain what I mean.
Having children march from classroom to classroom asking other children to give money or items for a cause that they know nothing about or a cause that doesn’t PERSONALLY affect their every day life is kind of crazy. It’s nice to gather pennies for a local group that needs money, but most of the children don’t KNOW yet what real need is (thankfully) and so how can they truly empathize with the cause? I’ve watched over the years and have just been mystified about this whole concept. I understand the motivation behind it, but I really feel that TRUE service learning should arise naturally in a classroom based on what is happening to the CHILDREN, or children and families they know personally. It may happen some years…and some years it may not.
This year it did.
I have a lovely, yet somewhat challenging group of children in kindergarten. As always it’s a diverse group of kids with a diverse group of needs. I have many that speak a second language first, and are new to this country. I also have one particularly challenging challenge this year. (Say THAT three times.)
His name is Jack.
He came to us under some stressful circumstances this fall when he and his mother moved unexpectedly into our community, and he turned my world upside down from the minute he ran into the classroom.
These days we have a certain kind of “love/drive me crazy” kind of relationship. Every morning at 8:30 I am madly in love with him. He comes in smiling and dancing and entertains us most of the day. By 2:30 he is usually sitting as far away from me as possible “thinking about” whatever it was he did to give me a massive headache. He leaves when the bell rings and throws me a quick hug as he speeds out the door. (Usually it hurts.)
The next day the roller coaster begins all over again. We’ve been doing this for oh, about 140 days. (Or a million.)
Recently, however, I discovered that his hard-working, supportive and amazing mother has the big C. She disclosed this to me in a tearful meeting in the hallway when she was handing off a birthday treat for the class.
It’s not good. It’s not good at all.
I sent an email to our “classroom parent” asking what she thought about rallying to help this single, struggling mother. It was a tricky situation, because Jack didn’t know yet exactly what was happening. (As far as I know he still doesn’t.) The response from all of the families was just OVERWHELMING!
The parents, in a quiet yet powerful show of support, put together a package of gift cards to help this mother in every way possible. And while the children have no idea that their classmate is in a battle he doesn’t even know he’s fighting, their parents have wrapped this family in love like nobody’s business. (They know something is happening, but not the details.)
They did all of this without a show, without a parade, without an assembly and without a fanfare. They did it without a column in the newspaper and without glamour, but they did it with a whole lot of love. They’ve shown their children by their actions that the best gift, the best lesson of all is to give from the heart when a fellow human being is in need.
The class performed their OWN service learning project... and they didn’t even know it.
I just hope someday I can tell them.