I spent my second week of third grade settling into my new routine and getting to know my students better. Overall, it’s been a much smoother week, but as we learn more and more about our students, I see more and more of their specific challenges. Most challenging for me so far has been what I will call our “avoiders”. These students have a very hard time focusing on most school activities and invent a whole host of methods to get out of doing their work.
As a child, if I was anything like these avoiders, I have no recollection of it. For the years of school that I can remember, I can say with certainty that I was not. I loved school, and on the days that I didn’t, I still loved learning. As such, I’ve been struggling to understand the perspective of these students as I work with them in class. I’ve been sharing these reflections and struggles with others on staff at my school, and it is clear that none of them were avoiders either. And so I find myself perplexed about how truly difficult it must be for these students to feel understood.
Chances are good that if you’re an educator, you enjoyed school. Chances are even better that if you enjoyed school, you were probably pretty good at it, whether by being inherently intelligent or just excellent at following directions in a manner that pleased adults. It is much less likely that, as children, teachers struggled to concentrate, adhere to classroom guidelines, and take interest in the work set in front of them. Given this reality, there probably aren’t very many people in any given school who understand what is happening to the child who deals with all of those things daily. If we have no experience or only limited knowledge of this experience, how can we support these students? How can we help them navigate a school environment which seems to do nothing but pester them?
When I ask myself these questions, my first response is always: Montessori. But these particular students have me leading a heated internal debate. I wonder if, as I like to imagine, these students would have never become avoiders if given the chance to start in a Montessori environment; that they would have flourished in a space that allowed them to choose their own work, seating arrangements, and motivations. But then I question this assumption, and ask myself if perhaps, as much as I don’t want to admit it, many children wouldn’t thrive in a Montessori environment. Maybe the responsibility would be too much for them, the weight of consistent productivity could be anxiety inducing, or the lack of structure might paralyze them from doing much at all.
I recognize my own lens as a learner in this debate, and that this lens is clouding my ability to consider a reality that involves individuals who are born or acculturated to have no spark ignited by learning (not to mention that I just find that idea very sad). My limited knowledge of child development tells me that this can’t be true, based on babies’ natural inclinations to acquire language and understanding of the environment around them. Despite this lens, and perhaps naive view of the world, I would love to see some sort of empirical study that identifies whether there are students with non-existent predilections for learning – if you know of any, please send them my way!