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Hudson Valley grandparent explains the difference between teacher and parent

How each "teaches" a child

(This nicely written essay really hit home the differences between the duties of a parent versus that of a teacher, and explains why the school librarian may not always give your child the book they ask for.)

I am the librarian for a pre-school for kids two to four, and one day a dad came to visit, just to say hello, and we had such an interesting talk that I’ve been mulling it over since. He mentioned that his son so loved the book he had taken out and that he was hoping to take it out again this week.

(Edward M. Cohen, author)

“Actually,” I responded awkwardly, “we discourage the kids from taking the same book out again. In fact, we actively help them to pick something else.”

The father then told me that he always reads two or three books a night to his child, just before bedtime, and, in fact, two of the books he reads have been the same ones for years. The little boy actually knows them by heart but clearly likes them read because they are so comforting as he falls into sleep. It was a lovely image and made me feel a bit guilty.

Well, it’s occurred to me since that this story dramatically illustrates the difference between a parent and a teacher. We both have our jobs to do. The parent establishes a safe and secure haven for the child, makes him feel protected and loved in that small circle of family and home — which is why it makes sense for the father to read these same books to his boy every night. Eventually the child internalizes that sense of safety and takes it with him to investigate the rest of the world.

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It is the teacher’s function to expand that circle, to push the child to experiment and explore and to reach out further with curiosity and courage. That’s why it makes sense that we don’t let the kids settle for those books they already have experienced. Some little boys will constantly select books about trucks or trains, one after the other, until eventually we will say, “You’ve read enough train books. Why not try this one about dinosaurs?” Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

By the middle of the year, I have taken all the train and truck books off the display shelves. As the term progresses, the children in every age group are bringing home more sophisticated and complex books. That’s because I am purposefully guiding their choices and pushing them onward.

This is the reason I don’t read or distribute Disney books. We have a shelf full of them in the library and I am sure the kids would adore them. But they get these books at home, so they don’t need to read them at school. In addition, they are deluged with these characters in the movies, on TV, in commercials, and toys at McDonald’s. It is the familiarity that makes them so appealing but are nowhere as exciting as great children’s favorites such as Marni McGee’s Forest Child for the fours, Bethany Roberts’ A Mouse Told His Mother for the threes, or Martin Waddell’s Owl Babies for the twos.

These books, like all good literature, have a universal emotional subtext that the kids can feel and identify with, they have illustrations that are textured and beautifully composed. But give them a choice between any of these and The Lion King, and the children will surely pick the latter. So I don’t offer them the option. That’s not my job.

Edward M. Cohen is the Library teacher at Montclare Children’s School in Manhattan.