Old dog.

I have a question for you: How do you keep up to date on new things, learn to keep what is old but works, and learn to let go of past bad teaching habits?

These questions were sparked by an anecdote, an epiphany, one of those, “So this is when it happens…” moments. The other day a young woman I am acquainted with is expecting her first baby any day now. He may even be in the world as I type. She was sharing that she was going out to buy some swaddling blankets, and emphasized they would be made of muslin. Some folks asked what swaddling was, and then muslin. “Swaddling” is when you wrap a newborn up like a burrito. It comforts many babies, although mine were so large at birth, swaddling was not really their gig. I chimed in and said swaddling blankets  could be made of flannel, too, and then she exclaimed that no, flannel swaddling has been linked to SIDS. Of course, I looked this up later, because this seemed like “let’s terrify new parents” meme versus actual scientific data. But anything that may keep a baby safe is usually a really good thing to know. Now, three thoughts: 1. I think this is a bunch of baloney, but would never question a woman about to have her first baby. New moms are a skittish lot, having been one myself. 2. I am now “of that age” when the expertise I gained as a new parent from reading books, information, and hands-on experience (nothing like on-the-job training!) has now become passe and irrelevant; 3. Old people don’t know anything according to young people. In this moment, this horrible moment, I imagined myself years hence, talking to one of my sons and fill-in-the-blank daughters-in-law when I become a grandma, and how I will be of no value to them. I will know nothing. I will be one of those women who says, “Well, my boys survived!” while pointing a bony, claw-like finger at them while holding a basket of apples and wearing a hooded cloak.

Deep breath. Okay. Not there yet.

But this led me to think of late I’ve been wondering if my teaching has stayed fresh. We get new programs, acronyms, and philosophies thrown at us constantly. We are told metaphorically that flannel blankets are bad, and muslin is the savior, in other words. And yet, with all this new new new–there are still so many parents who are not getting the fundamental message: Read to Your Child. If I could do one thing for new parents it would be to have them buy-in to the one thing that helps children grow and think. Yes, of course make sure they have well-fed and nourished tummies. Yes, make sure they have a clean, safe place to sleep. Keep them in routines. Don’t let them watch too much TV or stay no the computer. And read to them. But I cannot control what new parents do. I can only reflect upon my own best practices and try to keep them sharp: in this, I am fortunate to have an amazing mentor. Not only is she one of my dearest friends, but has such gentle insight into how to get all students to learn and think–she has a cache of teachers, too, who have thirty or more years of experience. These ladies know a thing or two about true, authentic, education.

Teaching is similar to medical practices in that we first want to do no harm. And yet, I also encounter teachers who have demeaned or bullied students, said a few things that bruise and pinch. I am not perfect, either. I have misinterpreted situations or actions, and encountered some broken children I have not been able to help. So I guess I am asking two questions: how do you first keep on top of your moral and ethical best practices, and then your pedagogical ones? Not an easy one to wrap up.

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