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Dr. Grauer's Column - What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor

Discover what happens when a grandfather is left alone with his grandson. Join Dr. Grauer as he navigates the art of teaching outside the secondary classroom, finding musing lessons in the giggles and games shared with a small child.

What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor (At last, the solution)
By Stuart Grauer

My grandson Noah gets a lot of attention and teaching. To me, that’s a good thing since I have minimal intuition about teaching infants—I’m all about teenagers. But, just a few days ago, I was left alone with him for the better part of two days. I hardly knew where to begin. Given a task like that as a teacher, I would never have entered the arena empty-handed. But there I was, alone, and there he was, wiggling, drooling, gesturing and being a baby. What do you do! I watched him for a while, and he was fine on his own. In a bit, my only inclination was to get out the ukulele and sing songs.

Stuart with grandson Noah - January 9, 2024

The Unplanned Lesson: Music and Connection
I started out with “Whiskey in the Jar.” Yes, I am a bad influence, pulling the grandpa card here, but Noah looked curious. Then I moved into “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?” mainly because there are a million verses.

Then it occurred to me. Kids today might be stumped at this point, so lacking is today’s curriculum. Kids are growing up, graduating, raising families, with absolutely no idea of what to do with a drunken sailor. It’s not right, and it’s a shame compared to generations past. 

Of course, there is an actual point here. The traditional songs that I love are meant to be sung by everyone and they are a continuance of ways of life where everyone can join in the arts.

Not so in our celebrity-obsessed culture. The contestants on “The Voice,” are judged by untouchable, elite pros and it all seems like there is no point to being an amateur—there is no pretense that this is “just singing a song,” or even, oftentimes, that it is fun or educational. The singer is trying to win and to then be elite, also. 

Isaac Langen, Tom Hopper, and Grauer Music students improvising musical collaborations with Taiwanese High School students who came to visit The Grauer School - January 30, 2024

At The Grauer School, the fact that over 80% of all kids participate in the performing arts is something that is stunning and counterculture in the best way. 91% of our students are enrolled in an arts elective! To me, this is a necessary aspect of a complete education for “the whole child.” Everyone can play and sing along, and I want that for Noah. Much of this is just the gifts of Grauer's Music Teachers, Isaac Langen and Tom Hopper, carrying on a great tradition of real teachers, but our sports options get these same kinds of ratings. I think a lot of it is the gift of the small school, where there is a natural sense that everyone is included, and where kids feel comfortable letting their sides down and trying things. 

Our Musical Heritage: The Role of Traditional Songs in Teaching
Sailors had songs to pass the time and help them do their work. They all joined in, that was what songs were for. So did farmers and railroaders, cobblers and cowboys. They all had their songs. Did you know that there is a heritage of teacher songs, although that tradition is hanging by a thread! Consider:

  • "What I Learned from the Teachers" by Pete Seeger
  • "School Days" by Gus Edwards and Will Cobb (1907)
  • "The Garden Song" by David Mallett
  • "School Days Over" by Ewan MacColl
  • "A Teacher's Work is Never Done" – Traditional (and funny)
  • "Teacher, Teacher" - A simple folk song
  • "The Three R's" by Jack Johnson, a modern song with folk feel to it.

Are they teaching those songs of our noble tradition in the graduate schools of education? No!

Through songs and all forms of inclusion, real teaching makes us feel able and engaged rather than the passive recipients of the teacher’s expertise, or the professional’s exclusive talent.

The above songs are for everyone, not designed to showcase someone or wrap their entire identity around whether they can sing one song or another. 

Many give up what they love because they don't think they'll be professionals, and they often regret it later. But 'amateur' actually comes from the Latin word for 'love.' 

Your passions are a big part of who you are, and give you comfort. Keep doing what you love and know that the one who encourages that is your real teacher.

Grauer 11th Grade students discussing human rights issues with Japanese High School students who came to visit The Grauer School - January 29, 2024

The Rhythm of Learning and Lesson Planning
As I went through the verses with my trusty ukulele, Noah was not singing, but he was grinning mildly and actually kicking his legs to the beat, he really was.

After singing, I started making up games, though it made no sense: “That ain’t a banana that’s my nose,” I explained (I got that from a Jimmy Durante movie of long ago). I stuck my nose up close to his face, he would grab my nose, I would say in a Jimmy Durante voice, “That ain’t a banana, that’s my nose,” over and over again. This was unplanned and came to me for no reason I know, and there was no end to it. I made up anything. But Noah absolutely loved it, and we were giggly, physical, silly, and exercising our hand-eye-nose coordination. Noah’s going to need that, too. 

But there is more. Real play means it’s all about Noah, not me. He acts, and I respond …repeat. If kids are going to develop, we respect that it is their environment, not just ours. We don’t direct everything. It was like Noah was teaching me how to be a teacher again.

Then we went for a walk of smells and textures outside: not doing but being, as they say… Lettuce and herbs growing, wind chimes chiming, dirt!, sky, wind. It turns out there is a ton going on out there. Pure experience. You’d never know it from the way most schools are run. It seemed like he loved the chimes.

Then I read stories. I was not sure Noah would want to sit for that, but after I read the first poem of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stephenson, he was calm and focused, ready for more. I read six or eight poems before it was time for some milk and a nap. 

I had no idea where I got all that material. I find that I learn the most about my own mind when I look back and find the patterns. So, as I thought about those three hours, it turns out that I was recreating a clinical lesson plan such as teachers study and must master in order to get a teaching license or master’s degree.

Stuart feeds grandson Noah his baby food - January 9, 2024

The sequence – starting with a singalong, followed by games, a sensory walk, and then story reading – lines right up with the key elements of a structured, clinical lesson plan, as taught in graduate schools of education. Here's how each component fits into the lesson plan:

  • Warm-up or Anticipatory Set (Singalong): This warm-up energizes students, helps create a communal atmosphere.
  • Active Engagement (Games and Make-Believe): Following up with games is a strategic move! It keeps the energy high and encourages active participation. Games reinforce concepts and develop skills.
  • Sensory Learning and Exploration (“Sensory” Walk): The sensory walk is a fantastic way to integrate experiential learning. Students explore and learn through their senses. 
  • Consolidation and Reflection (Reading Stories): Ending with story reading is a great way to bring the class to a more reflective and calm state. It brings them back together.

Although my initial goals were nothing more than to convey critical information about what we should do with the drunken sailor, we integrated various auditory/rhythmic (singalong), kinesthetic (games), sensory (walk), and visual/auditory (story reading) modes of learning. On accident, I was intuitively mirroring a well-rounded teacher’s lesson plan and addressing different learning styles. These methods also included connecting with the natural world: like the arts, that’s a fundamental aspect of all education. I completed a clinical teaching plan, unplanned.

I did other stuff, too. Sometimes I just watched him breathe. In those sweet times, life is just a sweet curiosity. In these moments, we witness the wonder in a child’s eyes, a mirror of the pure joy found in a child's world. I experienced a beautiful innocence. In complicated, fast-paced times where most interactions seem password-protected, teaching enables me and my students to slow down and experience the most beautiful thing of all, the real lesson: to really see one another. This is the joy and purpose of teaching.

Babies come with a built in muse, and my main concern is that school and teachers will not take this from them. By the time my daughter Audrey returned from work, Noah, kicking his feet into my palms, and I had arrived at a conclusion that could really get him out of a jam later in life. You’ve read this far, and so the least I can do is share it with you: “Shave his belly with a rusty razor. (Ear-ly in the morning).”

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Stuart with grandson Noah - January 9, 2024

Stuart feeds grandson Noah his baby food - January 9, 2024

Grauer 11th Grade students discussing human rights issues with Japanese High School students who came to visit The Grauer School - January 29, 2024

Isaac Langen, Tom Hopper, and Grauer Music students improvising musical collaborations with Taiwanese High School students who came to visit The Grauer School - January 30, 2024

Fearless Teaching® Book
by Dr. Stuart Grauer

Fearless Teaching® is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks—with the eyes of one of America’s most seasoned educators–into places you will surely never see on your own. Some are disappearing. It is a bit like playing hooky from school. You will travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious—oh, and Disneyland.

There you will find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is not a fix-it book—it is more a way of seeing the world and the school so that you can stay in your work and focus on what matters most to you.

"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

Click here to order Fearless Teaching® today

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