I Learned to Teach from Mr. Rogers

Beth Maloney Education, Elementary, Games, Life in the Classroom, Love, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Social Issues

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I didn’t love Mister Rogers growing up.  I was more of a Sesame Street-loving gal, with the bright, feathery puppets and the emphasis on cognitive growth.  It wasn’t until my little sister, a tiny blond hellion whose body never stopped moving, settled down into stillness only to watch Mister Rogers that I started paying closer attention to the quiet man in the red cardigan.  

Once I started paying attention, there was a lot of inspiration to be had.  Here’s what Mr. Rogers taught me about teaching:


Mr. Rogers taught me that everything is about relationships.  I can’t picture Mr. Rogers without hearing his kind voice saying, “I like you exactly as you are.”  This is the best introduction to affective learning there is! He is also the man who said, “A love of learning has a lot to do with learning that we’re loved.”  Mr. Rogers taught me to be the most effective teacher, I had to first build relationships with my students. He also said, “It’s easy to feel empathy for someone once you’ve heard their story.”  I think of that quote every time I start to lose patience with a student and it helps me make empathetic choices. He also taught me the power of silence. He used silence to listen to his guests and allowed himself to open up to their needs as he opened himself to them.


Let children play

Mr. Rogers taught me that children learn through play.  Watching him showed me that play is the context for learning.  Play provides cognitive, social, emotional, language and vocabulary skills, as well as physical development.  All teachers should make time for play. When I taught early learners, that meant dramatic play, art, and sensory stations.  In the upper grades, I incorporate games into instruction, advocate for recess at my school, and participate in Global School Play Day and encourage others to do the same.  There is power in play.


Practice radical love

Mr. Rogers taught me how to practice radical love as a teacher.  Many people have found inspiration in Mr. Rogers’ well-known quote attributed to his mother about dealing with a catastrophe by looking for the helpers.  Mr. Rogers demonstrated tolerance, compassion, and equity, even challenging societal norms. In May 1969, Francoise Clemmons, or Officer Clemmons, as he was known on the show, shared a foot bath in a kiddy pool with Mr. Rogers.  This quiet moment was a ground-breaking lesson to all watching about equality and standing up for human rights which made me want to emulate his advocacy on behalf of my students.

Officer Clemmons and Mr. Rogers

Officer Clemmons and Mr. Rogers


Always use child development best practices

Mr. Rogers was a lifelong devotee of Margaret McFarland.  McFarland believed children were not empty vessels to be filled but emerging people with their own needs, which was revolutionary at the time.  Mr. Rogers taught me to use an empathetic approach to child development that leads to approaching everything from curriculum, academic standards, and daily lesson planning focused on utilizing best practices.  


The need for high standards applied to people working with children  

As shown by the above example of Mr. Rogers’s love of using best practices, he also believed that there should be high standards applied to people working with children.  He believed that anyone providing children’s television should undergo special training. I believe that teachers should be given training in best practices and have the opportunity to undertake the rigorous National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification.


The arts belong with children

Mr. Rogers taught me that children deserve to be exposed to the fine arts.  I did not appreciate the fine transition music by jazz composer and pianist Johnny Costa, but I remember listening to singer Francoise Clemmons.  Mr. Rogers exposed children to the magic of puppets in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and he showed children how puppetry works. He composed and sang hundreds of songs.  He knew children deserved exposure to the arts at all ages.


How to teach

Watching Mr. Rogers teach his viewers taught me the most basic element of good instruction: Break it up into the simplest steps.  He taught me how to take any concept, from teaching reading, to how magnets work, to the effects of the Revolutionary War and break them into the simplest steps.  


Mr. Rogers continues to inspire children and adults with his simple, but insightful lessons.  Lessons that I cherish, and have passed on to the next generation. His legacy is what teachers’ dreams are made of. 

I’ll leave you with my last life lesson from Mr. Rogers…make every day a snappy new day!  



I am in my twentieth year of teaching and enjoy every minute of my time in the classroom. I have taught kindergarten, third grade, and currently teach fifth-grade science and social studies in Surprise, Arizona. I am an enthusiastic public school advocate. I am a National Board Certified Teacher and a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where I coach and mentor other teachers undergoing the rigorous National Board certification. I am the past president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teacher Network and president and founder of the Arizona Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. I am honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and appreciate having the opportunity to represent the teachers of Arizona. I love talking with and learning from other teachers around the world. I strongly believe that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students.

Comments 4

  1. Yolanda Wheelington

    I LOVE MR. ROGERS! My siblings and I were latch key kids from early elementary which meant they went off to play and dumped me in front of the TV with snacks. My daily lineup was Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, and Electric Company. Then I would watch whatever else until someone showed up. I looked forward to this alone time when I got to decompress. That’s a lot of TV for kids, but I learned how to blend, rhyme, tell stories, imagine, and apply reading with them. Thank God for PBS!

    Thank you for sharing your perspective! The picture alone brightened my day.

  2. Jen Hudson

    It is truly amazing to be an adult who grew up with Mister Rodgers now parent a child who gets to grow up with Daniel Tiger (originally Daniel Striped Tiger). The same lessons of relationship building, child development, empathy, and acceptance are now animated for the newest generation. Daniel even wears a red sweater and takes his shoes on and off at the start and end of each episode!

  3. James King

    Beth – This blog is so authentically you!

    I can hear your inflection in the writing… Also, none of these lessons seem like a far stretch. You exude Mr. Roger’s-talent and demeanor.

    Fun reminders for us teachers to stay focused on the importance of our role every day!

  4. Jess Ledbetter

    This made me smile :) It has been great to see Fred Rogers work celebrated so much in documentaries and films these past two years. As a preschool teacher, I live and breathe what you write about. But I think it’s so important for teachers in higher grades to soak up these things for their own classrooms, too. Mr. Rogers validated people for who they were and sought to encourage them to develop into better people. Really, these are lessons for approaching people at any age. Great blog!

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