What a commercial tells us

 

When I am (rarely) watching mainstream TV, I mute the commercials and take that time to read. It saves me from listening to the inanity of commercial television, while catching up on my most recent book.

However, one commercial caught my attention. You may know it. The scene is of a harried young teacher who is dreaming of a vacation while surrounded by children running amok in her kindergarten classroom. The camera pans around the room to reveal a child sitting in the fish tank, children running, screaming, and throwing things around the classroom. There is a child using a long tube to knock down a globe and other classroom furnishings.

I find this commercial fascinating because it reinforces a lack of understanding about teachers and young children. The commercial implies that:

  • Teachers are overwhelmed and powerless.
  • Teachers, especially young teachers, are not very good at working with young children.
  • Teachers who do not “manage” or discipline children will end up with chaos.
  • It is “cute” and humorous to think about teachers wanting to flee their classrooms.
  • Teaching young children is a nightmare.

At the same time, what does it say about young children?

  • Children, unless corralled or “managed” will run wild.
  • Children are destructive.
  • Children and teachers are natural enemies.
  • Children have no respect for the materials or the people in their environment.
  • Children are not capable.
  • Children are not curious or interested in their surroundings.

Obviously, this commercial is meant to amuse us. I am well aware that it does not claim to depict an actual classroom. It is not a documentary, after all. However, it does reveal the confused and conflicted attitudes about young children and those who work with them.

So how does the commercial get it wrong?

Let’s start with the classroom environment. Surprisingly, the creators of this commercial have created a kindergarten classroom environment that is quite appealing. Although I am sure there are still kindergartens that look like this, in the Northeast, at least, they are few and far between. Instead of lovely children’s art on the wall, fish tanks and open areas to move about, in most of today’s kindergartens desks take up most of the classroom space. Walls are covered with admonitions, like, “Keep your hands to yourself” as well as word charts and schedules with assignments.

In fact, it would be a wonderful thing to see a kindergarten classroom that looks like the one depicted in the commercial. And, if a group of young children were in a similar classroom, allowed to play and to investigate freely, there would be no chaos. Those of us who have worked for many years with young children know this. The richer the environment, the more engaged children become. By “richer,” I mean a room with open-ended materials, private spaces, places to be comfortable to look at a book, places to play, to construct, places to investigate science and art. And plenty of time for children and teachers to nurture good relationships, allowing friendships to bloom through conversation, sharing meals together and, of course, through play. So, the commercial reveals a complete lack of understanding about what the real kindergartens of today look like and how the good ones, that still exist, function.

And does the commercial reveal anything about the public’s attitude about teachers? We too often hear teachers of young children described in terms that relegate them to either saints or masochists. Still others (and I certainly hope this belief is dwindling) believe that the work is menial and requires little expertise.

When I was teaching 3 yr. old children, a 4th grade teacher said to me, “I don’t know how you do it. Wiping noses and tying shoes all day.” I shot back,  “I don’t do that all day. I teach them how to do it themselves and I am happy to help them when they need it. We do many other important things too, like learning through play and making discoveries. It’s exciting.”

The media and sometimes the general public too often neglect to see the intelligence and kindness of both teachers and children. Good teachers of young children, enjoy their work. There is no chaos. Yes, there is some noise. Children move around the classroom and there are occasional arguments. Some talk, messiness, and conflict are all necessary in the young child’s healthy growth and development. But there is also laughter, conversation, learning and happiness. Both the teachers and the children are keenly aware of nature and the world around them. The teachers are thoughtful. They observe, plan, and co-research with the children. They are curious about how children think and about life, in general.

However, teachers and young children (especially together) are too often depicted in either overly academic environments, “sugary” perfect scenarios or, as in this one, complete rebellion.

Do teachers sometimes dream of taking a vacation and lounging on a beach? Of course they do! Who doesn’t?

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