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Lead from the Start: give me the gun

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

give me the gun

When I first started teaching I worked next door to a Head Start assistant teacher named Mr. B. He gave me a great deal of advice and he is partially responsible for the teacher I am today. One of his first lessons was how to handle it when a kid starts shooting a pretend gun made out of legos in your class.
He told me, "Put out your hand to the child and say calmly, give me the gun." He told me never to acknowledge before I had the toy in my hand that the "gun" was actually legos. Then discuss why it is important not to play with guns, real or pretend.
He taught me two lessons with this approach. The first is that when a student is in the "pretend" mode of thinking the best way to communicate is to acknowledge their "reality". It is a matter of meeting a student where they are cognitively. The second lesson was that sometimes, at the preschool level, we are charged with writing scripts that a child will use for the rest of their life. It can only be helpful for a child to have acted out the drama of handing a "gun" to a caring adult.

I was reminded of these lessons yesterday in the L.A. Times when I read about a preschool teacher in Chicago who developed an approach to help young children understand their interactions with guns and gangs.

Before students in each of Sierra's two preschool classes begin reciting nursery rhymes and learning reading skills, they gather on a colorful rug around Sierra, who points to a large sheet of paper bearing the signatures of the 20 students in each class.

The paper is a contract. A red line runs through a student's drawing of a gun above a promise that he or she won't "touch real guns or talk to gangs."

The promise helps Sierra get her students to talk about how to cope with the violence. The children gather around and immediately start talking about the latest run-ins they and their families have had with gang members.
Dealing with community violence head on is a scary proposition for a preschool teacher. Ms. Sierra has shown courage in trying to help kids deal with the reality of their life situations.

This is especially hard when the gang members and and guns are in students homes. I have had students tell me about guns their family members own and why they have them. It is especially hard to navigate the murky moral and ethical waters of talking with children about family members who are involved with illegal activities. But this is the reality of teaching children of poverty, they live on the margins of an underground reality that mainstream America like to consider the "other" people. In my students lives, the "other" is sometimes their brother, cousin, mother, or even grandmother. How do we love a child and reject "who they are"?

Image from: "GNU Free Documentation license".


At 5:16 PM, Blogger loonyhiker said...

This was great! I never thought about how teachable that lego moment could be. Thanks for sharing this.


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