Tables and chairs sit deceptively low. Florescent colors line most available surfaces. In the air hangs a sense of mystical wonder imbued by the students who occupy this space. Somewhere, years from now, they’ll begin to lose this innocence, this amazement with the world, but for now they remain completely transfixed by the materials and new knowledge before them. After spending two months at a local high school, I had forgotten much of the charm generated by elementary schools. Here, everything is magic, and the only limitations are the capabilities of one’s hands and imagination.
In high school, students are self-aware. They look at another student’s work and immediately start judging how their work fairs by comparison. There is this sense of self-conscious creation. It’s no longer about making, it’s about making well. They’ve lost the love of process for an obsession with product. Their minds are trained to pursue arbitrary letters in the attempt to feel as though they’ve accomplished something significant. In a way, we’ve ruined them.
As terrified as I’ve been about my elementary placement, I’ve been incredibly refreshed this past week with the enthusiasm and pure creative joy these students exuberate, especially the younger ones. Having been in college for the past eight years, it was a little difficult at first learning how to simply talk to my kids, but after a few warm up days, I easily started falling back into the swing of it. These kids LOVE talking. They want to tell you about their day, their thoughts, adventures, about their art. Literally anything; they want to share it and they are extremely excited about it. I love that, I love everything about that. Being around these kids reminds me to be a little fearless sometimes. Go big or go home. Say something ridiculous, compliment everyone on silly things. Don’t let fear of expectations, judgement, or “not being good enough” hold you back. Be a little kid at heart… follow your passion relentlessly and with total enthusiasm and faith in your capacity to just do. Sometimes just the act of doing can be enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss my high school kids… so much. Much more than I thought I would. They made some pretty silly mistakes, but they do have the ability to reason, to create complex thoughts and solutions. My kindergarteners barely know how to trace… and don’t even get me started on scissors. As cute and inspiring as they are to work with, they literally know next to nothing and can be incredibly challenging to guide and instruct. Despite my fondness for the younglings, I do believe my vision for my classroom still best aligns with high schoolers.
Not to write a thesis on the matter, I’ll try to keep this short, but attitudes aside, one of the most significant differences from my high school to elementary placement is the inclusion of significantly special needs students. We had next to no special populations at FSUS, most accommodations just required extra time on tests or simplified instruction. Coming here, I had to take a step back and remember how severely young children can experience developmental and behavioral issues. At this point in their lives, they have little to no self-control and their brains have not begun to develop enough to really start implementing significant coping mechanisms for their disabilities. For this reason, our more severe special needs kids require the facilitation of an aide, to both assist them and hold them back as needed. Having grown up in a special needs home, this kind of hit me in an uncomfortable way. It reminded me a lot of difficult experiences I’ve had as a kid.. and I’ve had to find ways to push past that in engaging with my special pops students. They’re all incredibly sweet, and often frustrated or distracted, but they enjoy engaging with the art materials, regardless of whether or not they understand or follow the assignments and prompts. They love making and they love exploring what different things can do, how they feel, how they change. It’s a start, and that’s enough.
I’m looking forward to seeing what all I can learn in my short 7 weeks left. The beginning of this week, amidst an anxious mess as I adjusted to the culture shock between high school and elementary, seemed to stretch on for an eternity… but now it feels like the week has flown by. The end of my placement here will come much faster than I’d like , and I know I’m going to miss these kids just as much as my high schoolers. They’re not better or worse… just different, and incredible in their own ways for those differences.