One of the greatest teachers I know is a 6-year-old boy. (My 6-year-old boy.)
He runs a classroom full of girls (i.e. his little sisters) and he is always teaching them the most important things in life, like: the difference between a Double A and a Triple A battery, which shade of green crayon makes for the most realistic looking dinosaur and which toys of his are not meant to be touched.
His students tend to listen to him more than I — especially one in particular — his adoring 4-year-old sister with Down syndrome. She is, much of the time, teacher’s pet. (Given the day and if she decided to make a mess of the toys in his closet or not.)
I say he is one of the greatest teachers because he, despite his young age (or perhaps because of it), knows quite intuitively what it means to teach.
“Did you hear that, Mom?” He asks me excitedly with the pride of an Olympic coach. “Kate said a new word!”
“Did you know that, Mom?” He tells me boasting, “Kate can match all of her numbers!”
“Well how did she learn that number?” I ask puzzled, watching in awe of my bright girl.
“I taught her,” he says plainly (proudly). “We’ve been having secret school.”
“Secret school?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says with all the confidence of the biggest brother. “It’s when I teach her about life.”
And that, he does.
He pulls her in for a protective hug at church if she happens to get a bit restless. He grabs her hand and helps her up a step or down a slide made out of couch cushions. She is his and he is hers and what I find most beautiful is that he doesn’t realize he’s actually learning at a “secret school,” too.
For every day he is being taught the true wisdom of life — that we exist for each other, that patience is freedom, that a simple touch, a hug, a smile can change the world. He is learning how good it feels to help someone else, how rewarding it is to share your gifts for the benefit of others, and how life doesn’t get much better than when a 4-year-old wakes up asking for you by name.
And as my teacher becomes the student, my girl becomes a teacher. Kate pretends to tickle her 1-year-old sister who is fussing in the carseat next to her. When her baby sister drops her sippy cup, she is the first to pick it up. When her 2-year-old sister needs a dance partner, Kate is the first to step in for a waltz.
My 6-year-old boy isn’t the greatest teacher because he knows everything — but he does know Kate. He knows her words that others may not understand, the funny faces that make her laugh and the stuffed animal she’d most like to snuggle with. And because of it, she has learned so much about him.
For even though a big brother can be a big source of teasing and tickling and toy-withholding, he is so very much more. For in him, she learns the gifts that only the best teachers bestow:
You matter. You are capable. You are loved.