- by Blaine Helwig
Why is Teaching Children So Difficult?
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
When I was in my late teens, I worked part-time nights and weekends in a grocery store while attending university. One of my nightly tasks at the store was cleaning and preparing whole chickens and placing them end to end on spits, so they were ready for cooking the next day. Each spit held 5 whole chickens and since there were six spits, I cleaned and prepared 30 chickens each night. One evening, the night manager came into the meat room where I was working and stated, “You sure are fast at cleaning chickens.”
I glanced at him and chuckled. I replied in a semi-joking manner, “I was good at this after three days. I clean and prepare 30 chickens each evening. After 3 days, I had 90 chickens under my belt. I am as fast right now as I was after the third night.”
This situation clearly conveys not only the need for repetition to efficiently improve one’s practice at any given task, but the actual nature of the task being completed is also instrumental. Cleaning and preparing chickens to be skewered on spits is a simple task – highly controlled. The chickens are not putting up much fight at that point in the preparation process. However, neither of these factors are present in teaching children in a classroom.
What are the factors that make Teaching Children so difficult?
Providing an answer to this question is not difficult – in one word, control. There are so many moving parts in modern day classrooms. It is an organizational challenge to efficiently and effectively work in an elementary school each day attempting to teach reading, writing, mathematics, social studies and science. The labor is not only in the planning and preparation of daily lessons, which is taxing on one’s time, but the delivery of the instruction, too.
Unlike when I was tasked with the singular task of cleaning chickens back in the day, a teacher has to wear many hats – academic instructor, surrogate parent, motivation coach, sympathetic guide, trusted professional and finally, a master salesperson. Most of the plurality of this list makes total sense on the surface, but the teacher as a salesperson may seem unusual at first glance. But, this is one of the most important and demanding aspects of being a teacher. In effect, a teacher is continually selling every single day they are in front of their students.
They are selling the importance of learning and knowledge in their daily lessons – and quite frankly, it is often a difficult sale to close, since student learning requires considerable effort by the buyer. The teacher must persuade, convince and cajole students that learning, thinking, knowing and remembering is beneficial to them – and the teacher cannot hope to sell a 9 or 10 year old that the primary reason to learn this particular content is so they can get a good job one day. That is an impossible argument to make to a child. It rarely, if ever, resonates in their developmental world of thought and experience.
How do Teachers sell learning which is not always fun?
First and foremost, the teacher is not selling learning without a positive, interactive relationship with their students. Children are not little adults, but they value relational attention as much as adults – even if they do not realize it. Students will work more diligently for the teacher that can create a classroom climate of trust and respect. Interestingly, once these two factors are soundly founded, students rarely question the reason they need to learn this content or know that material. They implicitly trust and respect their teacher, and that is more than a sufficient basis to value the lesson’s content. Put simply, elementary students will follow trust and respect for their teacher over a cliff.
How does a Teacher establish trust and respect in their classroom?
Trust, respect and building an influential relationship with others is always time dependent. A teacher must create an atmosphere of ‘trust and respect’ slowly over time. The teacher earns respect and trust by arriving to school each day prepared for the instructional day in all academic lessons and activities. They greet their students each morning and stress the importance of the content they are delivering with genuine enthusiasm. They convey their inner core values to students with their professional attire and the multitude of positive interactions throughout each school. A teacher is omnipresent in the classroom – they are always modeling for students in all they say and do. However, in as little as two to three weeks, quality teachers can establish and create a classroom with bedrock layering of substance and meaning to all who enter each day.
Children are looking for a guide – a human connection – an empathetic adult that cares about them. Unconsciously, they petition their teacher for this relationship. In turn, the professional educator is tasked with creating and establishing an impactful classroom culture and climate of trust and respect – all learning and heightened academics are built upon its foundation. Singular tasks, like repetitively cleaning chickens is easy, but working with many moving parts in a modern day elementary school classroom is not. But, the intrinsic rewards of that daily work are immeasurable.