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by Robin Eisner

Some thirty years ago I graduated from the University of North Carolina and earned my teaching license. I loved watching students learn new things, sharing wonderful children's literature with them and knowing that I had some influence in their lives.

A lot has changed since then. Children today grow up in real time, and parents for decades have been busy. As a result, the teacher's role changed too. More children were added to the classroom, computers were introduced and yet, many of today's children are less educated than were their grandparents.

Everyone wants to be heard and children will go to great lengths to achieve that. But if they could find someone who listened to them before they need to search for negative attention behavior, think how different their lives could be. If students had some other human, they believed really cared what they had to say, think how different that student might react. Students are people in growing bodies, on their pathway to adulthood. Everyone wants to know that there is someone who cares enough to stop what they are doing to listen. As adults, we are no different. It is human nature. From my experience the most important thing a teacher can give their student is the gift of being a good listener.

In today's society we hear many things - most of which is simply noise pollution to drown out the emptiness inside. Children (and adults) are bombarded, whether from a machine, game, "music", or computer, this noise pollution passes the time but cannot ever free anyone of emptiness that resides inside. When we, as teachers learn to listen, not hear, many things change. This may seem trite to say, but usually the simple solutions prove themselves.

I believe that listening is the teacher's greatest tool. Beside giving a sense of confidence and pride in the student who knows that their teacher heard them, the teacher often learns important aspects of the student's life that could make all the difference in their relationship.

It is a challenge to move away from goal oriented tasks, such as completing the curriculum requirements, to a more personal level and see those eyes watching you as souls who are trying to figure it out too. Even if it is at the expense of some of the time provided for lessons, the reward is worth the sacrifice. My recommendation is to choose to grant time each day to listen.

For example, in the early years, that is one of the most important aspects of Show and Tell. As the child stands up and begins to speak, he/she has - or should have - a captive audience, and this most definitely must include the teacher. If the teacher is listening to that show and tell story, so will the other classmates.

In older students this can be accomplished through reporting, or art projects, or other projects where the student must share knowledge or information. Here, the teacher can use this platform to ask questions. This dialog may be the most important aspect of the project.

As these teaching techniques are practiced anyway, you might ask, what is the difference? The answer is your focus. Are you focused on who did the homework, are the answers correct, time is running short to complete the lesson? Or are you focused to see where you listened today? What have You learned today about your students?

As this new school year commences, try something different. Keep a diary for this month, each day writing down something new you learned about one of your students. It is a concrete way to chart this process and will be a useful means you can refer back to in the coming months. Your effort will result in a very special class experience this year.

Students can always acquire knowledge as the years go by. For this reason we have libraries, search engines, the internet and tutors. But personal interaction, feeling important, not from ego, but from, "hey there is someone out there who really does care what I think" can make all the difference in ten, or twenty years time. True, you may not be there to witness the event, but that student will remember the occasion you took time to listen. And that makes all the difference.

Robin Eisner
Email: robineisner(at)hotmail(dot)com

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