“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~Aristotle
Teachers, have you thought about this? Do you know how you will educate your students’ hearts this year?
Childhood – especially the middle school years – can seem like a crazy-making manic time for kids. One minute they’re sweet, young and innocent, most interested in their lunchbox design and PBS Kids, and the next minute they’ve morphed into some sort of gangly, overgrown version of their elementary selves, obsessed with being away from their parents, in constant contact with their friends, and scouring Instagram for the latest trends and desperate to keep up with ‘likes’.
Teenagers – so desperate to be mature, to try on new styles, trends and personas – grow up quickly. Watching my middle school students evolve over the course of a school year crystallizes my belief that it’s all part of the process of life.
I remember one of my 8th grade students – typically a nice, ‘normal’ type of kid, who was well liked, quiet, and far from a trouble maker. Over the course of a week he started acting out – being a bit disruptive, more aggressive, and walked with just a hint of swagger. My teaching partner and I started noticing the change, and became concerned. When we approached him, he smiled in surprise and said, “Oh – no worries – I’m just trying something new.” And sure enough, after a few weeks, he was back to his old self.
I think about him often when I find myself mystified at the middle school behaviors going on around me. I’ve long given up asking ‘Why did you do that?’, because so often the genuine, honest response I would receive was “I have no idea.” I wonder what happens to this urgency to ‘try something new’ when we hit adulthood? The desperation seems to be replaced with fear, the excitement with sadness, the hopefulness with complacency. When adults ‘try something new’ we are so often accused of having a mid-life crisis; it’s no wonder that so many retreat back into their old habits, mre content with the familiar than the unknown. Where is the creativity that so absolutely explodes out of a child, only to be smothered by multitudes of logical plans in adulthood? Does it get buried deep in our souls, or does it simply evaporate in our quest for the American dream?
If you think back to your middle school years, can you remember feeling this urgency? Did you move from one trend to the next, constantly asserting your independence at any cost? Were you most interested in listening to what your friends said (because they totally understand what it’s like to be a kid) and ignoring every adult who tried to teach you so you didn’t have to learn it the ‘hard’ way?
I know I was that kid, and when I look back, the teachers and adults I most remember are the ones that first captured my heart. They were the ones who looked me in the eye, knowing that my painfully shy self was mustering up the courage of a queen to ask them for help. They were the ones who understood when I just couldn’t dissect that frog in Biology class, or was collapsing in tears when I lost my retainer in the lunch room. They were the adults who knew a little about the music I liked to listen to, and always had the right kind of chips and salsa and MTV when I really just needed a place to be. They were the ones who, 25 years later, still remembered what Jenny had to say when even she flunked that 8th grade English test.
So teachers, I challenge you to consider this: educating the heart before educating the mind. Instead of thinking of curriculum first, please think of the kids before all else. Remember that they are trying on new aspects of themselves all the time. Remember that they are still learning, that they want to do well, and that it is our job to serve their needs the best way we can. Please remember that if you can’t capture their heart, you’ll struggle all year to capture their mind. And above all else, find some way every day to show them a piece of you – to let them know that your heart is right in the center of this incredibly challenging, at times frustrating and always ridiculously amazing choice you made to become a teacher.
A version of this post first appeared on The Educator’s Room in August, 2016.