Richard Lakin reminds us that teaching can be an act of love

by Bernie DeKoven on January 13, 2011

I started teaching in the late 60s. I continued until the mid 70s. I remember why I stopped teaching – a little too vividly to write about it now. Reading Richard Lakin‘s Teaching as an Act of Love: Thoughts and recollections of a former teacher, principal and kid, I remembered why I began.

The following is from a chapter titled: “A welcoming and welcome Day - September 1, 1977″

The staff broke at noon for a pot luck lunch and gathered at the home of a staff member who lived nearby. After a delicious lunch, two teachers surprised us with a new game for the staff to play on the backyard lawn—Hug Tag.

They had learned this game during a weeklong humanistic and personal development workshop earlier in the summer. Some of us were a little shy to join in at first.

The rules were simple:

  • You’re “it” and out of the game if you’re tagged while not hugging another person.
  • Only 2 people can be hugging
  • If a third person comes over, one person must find another person to hug.

We all became hysterical with laughter running about the back yard randomly hugging one another trying not to be “tagged it.” While most of us had been on a first name basis for years, a friendly hug seemed to be a real expression of our feelings towards one another as we began another year working closely together as a staff. We returned to the school shortly before the kindergarteners and the children whose families were new in town began arriving for the Open House. We were all energized by the lunch and the camaraderie of the Hug Tag.

Hug Tag, for godsake! When was the last time a school staff played Hug Tag? When was the last time you met a principal who actually encouraged such silliness? When did it become illegal for us to touch each other like that?

What a perfect metaphor for what teaching once meant to us.

Here’s another, longer example from a chapter called “Calming the Chaos on the Playground and in the Lunchroom”

The 1st and 2nd graders used their recess to throw, kick and chase after jelly balls, play on the few available swings, race about or wander in “mini gangs” of two or three. Most of the “fun” for the boys, however, was to chase after each other or possibly grab girls’ hats and tease them. This teasing was usually verbal but occasionally physical—a push here, a shove there. Before the end of the lower grades’ recess time, hordes of 3rd graders raced onto the playground from the lunchroom to capture the 1st and 2nd graders’ territory. The 3rd graders organized kickball games, played 4-square and double-Dutch jump rope, and competed to see who could swing the highest and who could hang upside down on the monkey bars the longest. Unfortunately, only 10 or 15 minutes later the “big” 4th and 5th graders would come running out of the lunchroom to conquer the 3rd graders’ territory, leaving the 3rd graders in fits of anger.

Playing on the playground

The firsts steps in our efforts as adults to recapture the playing fields from the crowd psychology was to make distinct noon recesses without overlapping times for the three different units. The youngsters could then have their own “territory” to play on, protected from waves of older newcomers; they now would be left alone to play “in peace.”

After a few years I had somehow concluded that what the “gangs” of roaming 1st and 2nd graders really needed was a gigantic sandbox to build castles and raceways for their Matchbox cars. I asked one PTO parent who had a connection with the telephone company to donate 10 or so telephone poles to be delivered to the basically barren playground. These poles created a perfect enclosure for our new sandbox.

To my surprise, a call to the Parks Department resulted in the delivery of 12 truck-loads of sand—an instant beach. The roaming bands melted away and Matchbox play became an immediate and self sustaining hit of the non-physical kind…

Two 1st grade friends, Eric and Louie, set the example for establishing calm and fun on the playing fields. They spontaneously brought soccer balls to school, when it was not yet a popular children’s sport in the U.S., and started kicking the balls around and developing the fanciest foot work. In fact, the entire staff was certain that they had witnessed the birth of two future Peles right there in front of their own eyes on the Independence School playing fields.

Louie and Eric continued developing their agility and stamina daily for the next few years and by the the 4th grade it became a popular noon recess game. Carl and the two Jims, beloved 4th and 5th grade teachers, also sports enthusiasts of the first order, brought organized street hockey and soft ball along with soccer to the upper grade recesses. They encouraged and welcomed everyone to join in and to play on the mixed boys and girls teams. A great feeling of camaraderie and a true sense of fair play and sportsmanship developed as a result of their determined efforts and the positive examples these three goodhearted young men set.

Imagine a school where such efforts still take place? Where teachers and staff are so concerned about what goes on in the playground that they make such concerted efforts to create an environment that is actually conducive to fun? Imagine a school where kids still have recess.

If you are or were a principal, a teacher, a parent who ever believed that education was possibly connected to love, go to Richard Lakin’s website. Sample his writings. Contact him. Follow his tweets. He’d most definitely like to hear from you. And he just might inspire you enough to regain your faith.


A Playful Path photoA playful path is the shortest road to happiness.
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