Back in the mid-1990s, when I was still in middle school, I remember hearing about a book that the current First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote. It was called It Takes a Village. I’ve never read the book. I’ve never read the counter-arguments or criticisms of it. All I’ve ever encountered was the title. (I just requested it through the public library and am hoping to read it soon.) The title, though, has resonated with me over the years.
Before leaving for the conference in Chicago I am attending this weekend, I had the opportunity to visit two different classrooms in my district. The first was a classroom for children who are learning English as a second language. The second was at the Urbana Early Childhood School. Both visits were so I could do brief observations as a part of my graduate school coursework. As I left the schools, I was struck with the realisation of the truthfulness to the title of Mrs. Clinton’s book. It really does take a village to raise a child. Parents and immediately family are the primary caregivers, typically, but they are not the only ones teaching and helping children grow. Teachers also play a key role. So do their peers and their classmates.
This was especially clear to me as I was visiting UECS. The principal gave me a tour of the building and I learned that the school is divided into three “villages” with four classes each. I have no idea if the idea of calling the groups of classrooms “villages” is tied to this proverb or not, but it is certainly appropriate! As we walked through UECS, I was struck by the sense of community and friendliness that permeates the very walls! Even as we were just walking past one of the rooms, a young girl saw the principal and rushed over just to say hi before getting back to the class activity! (The principal, ever the teacher, coached the girl on waving hello instead of leaving her class to greet someone.)
I spent about 20 minutes inside one of the classrooms and was amazed at the wonderful things I saw going on. Students spend most of their time in the early childhood program learning through play. There are centers in each room that the principal requires but each teacher sets them up differently. I sat near the house center and watched as boys and girls played at being parents using baby dolls. One girl turned to a boy and said, “Don’t you hear these babies crying? Why do you always leave to go to the office each day and leave me home with these crying babies?!” to which he responded, “I have to go to the office; how else am I going to pay the bills?!” Keep in mind, children at UECS are between the ages of 3 and 5 years old, and yet they have such sophisticated language skills! Later, the girl played at growing frustrated with a baby and talked about spanking her. The teacher came over and, in a calm and wonderfully patient way, coached the students on more appropriate methods for expressing frustration.
I could have stayed in the classrooms I was visiting all day, but, alas, I had to leave so that I could finish packing before leaving for our weekend trop. But I want to return to my original theme. It really does take a village. Anyone and everyone who is around children knows that the things they say and do matter and make a lasting impressions. While my wife and I have no children of our own, we are still very much involved in teaching young people to become decent, honest people. We are a part of the village. I’m very grateful to those who let me visit today so that I could witness first-hand the awesome things that are happening within my school district. While I am attending this conference as a guest of Washington District 52, I am very proud to tell others that I am a teacher in Urbana!