Last weekend I spent the afternoon with a family friend. An amazing woman, 80 years young and vibrant. She pulled out two large portfolio folders and showed me her paintings. I didn't know this until then, but she had only taken up painting after she retired in 1987. She said she did because she wanted to keep learning. She stopped painting in 2005 when her eyesight left her, and shortly after took up clay.
She was a teacher in the Los Angeles Public school system and over her career she has seen the complete and utter decline of public education. She tells me that when she started teaching, kindergartens had only a big cozy rug and a rocking chair for the teacher. The teacher would read and the children would gather on the rug. She remembers when the public school system got rid of the rocking chairs and the rugs and replaced them with desks. (They gathered up the chairs and put them in storage. She rescued two. They are still on her porch.) She says "it was all downhill" from there.
She believes strongly in letting children discover and learn for themselves and warns me "Don't try to teach your kids to read, it will ruin it for them. Just leave them alone and they'll figure it out." She says that in her classrooms they had only open ended toys and she preferred wood so that children could "feel the integrity of the wood" and use their imagination.
She loved teaching. Still does. The fact that there is an educational scholarship named after her for K-12 educators is just a small bit of evidence of what a truly amazing teacher she was. Or rather, is. I know I'm learning a lot from her.
Her lesson plan the day that she shared all her paintings with me? "Keep learning. No matter what. Learning is living."
What are you learning now?