When a child's outbursts are met with mature understanding and thoughtful guidance, that child learns and is educated
Deep breath, because this one's a biggie, and I could easily fall off my tightrope. Here goes…what sets good educators apart from the rest? And is there some cultural difference that makes it easier for one culture or another to be better at educating their young?
I would suggest the answer to the second question is yes, and the answer to the first question is therefore worth addressing. I've witnessed the Catalan school system in action, as I have the English, German, and even Japanese, and I've talked to teachers in all of these countries. But let's be honest here: views on education differ within staffrooms, let alone across cultures, so generalisations will of course be rightly met with scepticism. That said, adult reactions to children's behaviour, whether it be their incessant questions, intense energy, lack of attentiveness, obstinacy, impertinence, or anything else, do tend to have a certain uniform cultural response worth discussing.
Basically, one thing stands out for me. When kids challenge their teacher - and a challenge can take many different forms - how does the teacher react? Do they enter into a battle with the child, which really means “coming down to their level”, and not their intellectual level, which is constructive if we wish to be able to educate them, but their emotional one, or do they calmly, patiently and wisely educate them about when and how to challenge their elders?
In my experience, coming down to their emotional level is pretty much a guaranteed way of losing the respect you need from kids to teach them anything. The ensuing battle has no winners. As Frankie so sagely put it, “When two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score” (Google it if you were born after 1970). And of course a healthy learning environment needs to be one where there is mutual respect. But let's not get confused here, because respecting kids does not mean ceding authority to them. No, respecting children means listening to them and responding as an adult to their children's thoughts, fears, complaints, ideas, etc. And here's the point: when a child's outbursts are met with mature understanding and thoughtful guidance, that child learns and is educated, even if at first it doesn't seem so. When met with an emotional response on the other hand, the child learns not to trust the adult, or teacher in this case, and the chances of a positive and rewarding educational relationship are reduced.
Now, don't get me wrong, over the years I've met some wonderful teachers here in my adopted home of Catalonia, but what I and other Britalan friends and colleagues have often been frustrated to find when meeting our children's schoolteachers is that the children seem to be to blame for something; and not just your child, the whole class, almost as if the teacher is annoyed by them behaving like kids, an attitude that makes it difficult to teach them anything or model desirable mature and adult behaviour. Right, now that's off my chest, where did I put my safety net?