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Respecting the Learner
July 6, 2015

Let people know that you value and respect them.
-Patti Bailie


"One of the essential attributes of a good teacher — from preschool through to graduate school — is the disposition to respect the learners," writes Lilian Katz in her book, Intellectual Emergencies: Some Reflections on Mothering and Teaching.

"I suggest that to respect the learner means, among other things, attributing to the learner positive qualities, intentions, and expectations, even when the available evidence may cast doubts on the learner's possession of these attributes. A respectful relationship between the teacher and the learner is marked also by treating the learner with dignity, listening closely and attentively to what the learner says as well as looking also for what they seem reluctant to say. Respect also includes treating the learners as sensible persons, even though that assumption sometimes requires quite a stretch of the teacher's imagination. When it comes to young children, this element of respect implies that we should resist the temptation to talk to the children in silly sweet voices, heaping empty praise on them, and giving them certificates indicating that a smiling bear believes they are special. This disrespectful strategy makes a mockery of teaching. After all, teaching is about helping learners to make better, deeper, and fuller sense of their experience and to derive deep satisfaction from the process of doing so. Education, after all, is not about amusement, excitement, or entertainment."

Intellectual Emergencies: Some Reflections on Mothering and Teaching is a special contribution to the field by Lilian Katz.  She has spent many years conducting workshops for teachers, parents, and students all over the world.  During those workshops, she often refers to her son Stephen, and what she has termed the "intellectual emergencies" she experienced during the years he was growing up.  Her responses to these "emergencies," the moments when he analyzed her actions and challenged her decisions as a parent and a teacher, are presented in this insightful, witty book.


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Displaying All 3 Comments
Peter Luke Gebhardt
Aor International
Dallas, TX, United States
07/06/2015 10:45 am

"Choice" in early childhood curriculum, for the children in the classroom, encourage a love of learning and independence, and develops critical thinking skills. With the adults as learning partners with the children, a curriculum based on children's interests, with child-chosen activities combined with teacher-selected activities based on children's interests, all revelant subjects can be covered in a developmentally-appropriate manner. No tests, no time-outs, and use conflict resoution . methods to allow children to learn how to solve conflicts appropriately. No rocket science needed here&#10084;&#65039;

Pennsylvania, United States
07/06/2015 09:52 am

Children are truly fascinating. Many of the children that I have worked with just love to spend time with the teacher conversing, creating, ... and they feel very comfortable and secure. However, when there are 2 teachers and 15 children, it is so hard to carve out those special times (some children would spend a good chunk of their day engaged with the teacher). It would be lovely if more teachers (aides, assistants--adults) could be engaged with the children to provide that one-on-one time that many do cherish. Of course, in our economically driven world, it's not cost efficient, such a sadness for the children who want and need nurturing and support. Teaching young children is not a job, it's a calling. Know your children, care for the whole child (not just the abc-123 part) and let them decorate with as many stickers as they like.

Francis Wardle
Denver, CO, United States
07/06/2015 06:09 am

I think this advice is particularly relevant for children with developmental delays. So often these children are not allowed to experience learning like other children, but must focus on the things they are not good at - sometimes at the expense of things they like and are good at. This is not respect; further, it implies that adults are in change of what the child needs to know and can do.

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