Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


Why I Became A Teacher

Education Is The Treatment

Hi Yummy Mummy Club readers! I am so excited to be part of this community. I have loads of posts rolling around in my head and soon streaming from my fingertips, but I thought for my first post I should start at the beginning and tell you how I ended up alongside a gaggle of students, guiding them through their elementary years.

Half a lifetime ago, I had a job as a Child and Family Counsellor. I was fresh out of school and was young, idealistic, and determined to make the world a better place for kids. I had a difficult, yet rewarding, position working in a classroom for students who could not manage in a “regular school environment.” The majority of my students lived in group homes, having been removed from some pretty terrible home conditions. A few of my kids were still living in precarious situations. My role was to help coach and guide the students as they tried to manage their day-to-day lives, under the cloud of some pretty tough problems. In that job, I met some really amazing kids and some pretty fantastic adults, all coping with a whole lot of chaos.

The view of the agency I worked for was that these kids needed to deal with their issues before they could focus on their learning. It was felt that the kids should gain control of their emotional well-being and their behavioural turmoil before working on the gaps in their learning. Understandably, most of the kids were behind their peers in school skills. The view of the program was that treatment should supersede education. I understood the theory behind this practice. A child who is highly stressed, who is struggling to make sense of their inexplicable situation, can’t devote any of their growing brains to memorizing the times tables. Every day, I see the impact that life has on learning, and stress certainly gets in the way.

However, I also see how education can help kids in every situation. It can be a life preserver for those in the most stressful situations. Sure, life impacts learning, but life also is learning. I found that my students didn’t want to always focus on how to manage their anger or to discuss how their parents had let them down. Sometimes, they just wanted to work on their reading or participate in a music class. Sometimes, my students wanted to channel their energies into solving a challenging math problem or conducting a science experiment. Learning often helped them forgot for a bit, and really provided the kids a ticket to start feeling better about themselves.

Anyway, dear reader, working in this setting changed my life and sent me on a different career path. To see a kid who is angry at the world, who can’t figure out why they can’t read, who has already learned in their eight short years that life is about fighting and self preservation, to see this kid start to sound out words and to feel a swell of pride in themselves, well that’s nothing short of magic. Often, overcoming struggles in learning gave these kids some tools to overcome other problems in their lives. And for me, the teaching became more important than the counselling.

Children, no matter where they come from, no matter what their family situation, need to be taught. The human brain is eager for stimulation and challenge. Exercising young brains is the best way to develop them. And science tells us that our children’s brains are growing and developing well into their twenties. Kids need to take pride in themselves and need to feel hope. Learning makes kids feel good, and feeling good builds resilience. Resilience helps kids handle the struggles that life throws at them.

I came to see that treatment should not supersede education, but rather that education is the treatment. Education treats despair and helps fight poverty. Education can break cycles of abuse. I’m not foolish enough to believe that school is the cure for everything, but I do believe that our brains are one of the most powerful tools we have, and I believe learning is the best way to strengthen that tool.

I’m still a little idealistic and I still want to make the world a better place for kids, I just came to realize that the way I can best make an impact is to help grow healthy minds. I sought to learn as much as I could about learning. I sought to understand as much as I could about our children’s brains. And so, I became a teacher, and in the classroom, I found my home.