By Melinda Putney

This strange school year has been for me a delightful display of evidence by my students that they have an inner teacher. They grow and learn in spite of obstacles. They can’t help themselves. They just do it.

By February, all my remote students had returned to the classroom. I could begin the slow process of understanding post-pandemic life. I could do this my favorite way of understanding everything, through observing the behavior of children. They came back changed. They had been through something. They had learned gratitude for the simple things: seeing friends, learning a lesson, being alive.

Can you imagine a seven-year-old lugging a camp chair into the cold air to eat a snack and listen to a story with hats and gloves on? How about sitting at a desk with a coat on? They just did those things. They adapted so quickly to the fact that the windows needed to be open that they took care of their own needs in order to continue learning.

Lower Elementary school-aged children are hardy! The global pandemic tested their grit and they proved just how much grit they have. In spite of nasal test swabs, temperature checks, and frequent hand washing, their teeth continued to fall out, their spelling improved, friendships blossomed or faded, and many made it over the hump of learning to read. 

By the spring of 2021, I noticed that the most frequently shared “celebration” by children was “both my parents will be vaccinated soon.” It was a departure from pre-pandemic celebrations, which were along the lines of “I’m going to 16 Handles after school.” These kids have learned permanent life lessons from the global pandemic. They’ve changed.

This is what Maria Montessori knew: teachers are merely there to witness, guide, protect, challenge, encourage. The real teacher is within the child, waiting to be heard, waiting to be trusted by the child’s keen inner listening. I know this now, from real experience. I’ve seen with my own eyes how strong the human spirit is. Children learn despite everything!