I used to think school was more important than anything else. In fact, I remember sharing that truism many times in those serious, heart-to-heart conversations with kiddos who were slacking off. I’d put on a disappointed face and use my calm, serious tone: “You didn’t do your project because you were playing? Homework is more important than playing. School is a child’s most important job. Being a good student should be your top priority. It has to come first.”
Who knows where I got that idea–from another teacher, I think, or maybe even a parent. Every adult I said that in front of would nod in solemn agreement. It was a conventional piece of wisdom that we all believed and were trying desperately to persuade the kids to buy into when sports and video games and playing with friends became their focus.
My feelings have changed over the years. Slowly I have come to believe that kids have a right to their own time outside of school, and that we as teachers have no more right to control their evenings and weekends than our bosses should have to control ours. Kids need time to be kids and enjoy their childhood. Now I believe that a child’s most important job is not school, but learning. And these two things are not one and the same.
Learning takes place through play and exploration. Learning comes from following one’s passions and developing one’s interests and hobbies. Learning happens when we talk, wonder, question, daydream, and experiment. Sometimes it comes through worksheets and research projects. But not always. And the things learned through schooling are not necessarily more important than the skills developed apart from school.
I’m not opposed to homework altogether. And I want students to take school seriously. It’s critically important that kids give their schoolwork 100% during the hours of 8 and 3. But school is not the most important thing in their lives. Even if learning is a student’s most important job, children are more than just students, and life is about more than our jobs. Life is about relationships: family, friends, and a connection to God and spirituality. The beauty of life is experienced through play and rest, movement and relaxation. I want to help students create a work/life balance from a young age so that they grow up knowing how to enjoy and appreciate every moment they are given. And that is why I want my interactions with students to demonstrate a shift in perspective. I want my own priorities to reflect that school is not–and never has been–anyone’s most important job.