One of our Adventures In Character (AIC) staff members this year, Lauren Dunn, has been putting together a bi-weekly newsletter that is sent to our mailing list of current and potential helpers. In the most recent issue she wrote an article titled, Of Proverbs and Monkeys, that I just love! It is full of insight, humor, and inspiration for anyone who works with children. She gave me permission to repost it here. Enjoy!
It was my second year as a teacher in Adventures in Character. I was excited – I had looked forward to this weekend for months! Finally, the children arrived for the Friday welcome session. My fellow teacher and I were busy putting names to faces in the semi-hectic get-to-know-you session. We started playing the game where each child names their favorite animal. The next child has to name their favorite animal and the favorite animal of the person before them, and so on.
The kids were going down the line, naming their favorite animals. My fellow teacher and I, naively pleased with our early success, listened with interest as the favorites were named: “Dog,” “horse,” “bear,” – all the usuals. It was going great. It continued normally until there was an unexpected twist: “Cat,” “elephant,” “southern douroucouli.” The game suddenly stopped. The next child just looked at me, waiting for my input. “What?” I asked the young boy, Matthew, who had blurted out the unfamiliar animal. “Southern douroucouli,” he cheerfully repeated. “It’s a monkey.” It was then that I knew this would be a memorable year.
We got through the game – but with difficulty. Most of the kids couldn’t remember how to pronounce Matthew’s favorite animal, and Matthew wouldn’t take “monkey” as an acceptable alternative. Matthew was not at all a difficult student, but definitely a busy one. Energetic and excited. Very excited. About five times that afternoon, Matthew asked about food. He wasn’t convinced that he’d make it to dinner, but I assured him he would.
Whatever activity we did, Matthew participated with gusto. It was certainly a fast-paced afternoon. Soon it was time for the last drama session before dinner break. We were sitting in the front row, and Matthew was sitting next to me. Now, all students love the drama, but it was an especially aerobic activity for Matthew. He was fully involved in the story, yelling out warnings to the characters who didn’t seem to notice the bad guys or their plots. His enthusiasm was cute (and contagious).
All too soon, the drama ended, with the usual suspense. It was time for dinner, and I thought Matthew would be ecstatic. This was the moment he’d waited for all afternoon: food. But, to my surprise, Matthew let out a groan of disappointment. The drama was too captivating. He was having too much fun. He didn’t want to leave – not even for food.
“Give me your heart, my son,” Solomon counseled his son (Proverbs 23:26). While this is written from a father to a child, and is first and foremost about parenting, it is also a testimony of what it means to teach. Teaching is not all about sitting, raising your hand, and being quiet while only the teacher talks (although all of that is needed at some point). For Matthew, sitting quietly and listening could be quite difficult. But as soon as something had his interest, he was a sharp student.
When teaching, the important thing isn’t that all the kids are as quiet as mice and sitting perfectly still. Learning takes place when their hearts are reached. Get down on their level. Let them ask questions and have dialogue with you. Tell a story, play a game – anything to make a specific principle stand out in their memory. They may not remember Point #4, but they’ll remember a richly described story or a particularly hilarious game. That is teaching success: a heart reached.
Like I said, Matthew had trouble with quietness and stillness. But he was a sponge. He drank in everything that was given to him once it was given to him in a way where his interest was captivated. Many kids are a lot like Matthew. They may not know what a southern douroucouli is, but they know a caring teacher when they see one.