- Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
- What is best for this student?
- What is this student’s passion?
- What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
- How did this work for our students?
Wow. Those are some tough questions. I’m a bit short on time this evening, so I’m going to tackle the scariest: Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
Off the top of my head, I don’t have an answer. But, being a big-time believer in the power of reflective writing, I think I’ll just write my way through it. Here it goes…
Critical Question #1: Would I Want to Be a Learner in My Own Classroom?
I have two words to this one: not yet. Or maybe three words: not all the time.
There are some big problems with the traditional systems of public schooling. There’s the rigid bell schedule, the inflexible six-period school day, mandatory double period English / math for “intervention,” inflexible furniture manufactured in 1965, mandatory reading assessments… You get the idea.
There are some big problems with what and how I’m required to teach. Too many state standards. Too much focus on the big state test in the spring. Too much teaching to the test. Too many students in each class. Too many grade-based progress reports. Too much tracking. Too much emphasis on completion and not enough on competency.
Too much trying to measure learning outcomes when what I actually want my students to learn is impossible to measure: How do you measure creativity? How do you measure originality and voice? How do you measure new-found passions for reading?
Sometimes I think the people in charge have never met an actual child.
But this is my own classroom I’m talking about. So, why can’t I do what I want? Well, I can and I do. In fact, I love trying new approaches, reading professional literature, and reaching out to other educators for ideas. I am OK with the messiness and unpredictability change can bring.
The biggest thing we can do as classroom teachers is to keep our students front and center in our minds. I know this seems obvious but it really isn’t. With all of the pressures on teachers, it is easy to get lost in a see of lesson plans, spreadsheets, and faculty meetings. On so many occasions, I’ve caught myself thinking, Oh yeah, these are kids! before realizing I needed to scrap a poorly-designed lesson. There is a reason they like to play around. They are kids.
Here’s my idea. If we teachers do these three things, I think the rest will follow naturally:
- When it comes to students, get to know them as individuals. Talk to them and listen with our hearts. Truly care.
- When it comes to content, value creativity and choice. Give multiple (and varied) opportunities for students to express their unique voices. Publish!
- When it comes to reflecting on our practice, just do it.
Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? On a good day, yes. On a bad day, not so much. That’s the big challenge of teaching. I never feel like I’m done. I’m always looking forward to the next class, the next unit, or the next year.
Wait a minute. I am a learner in my own classroom, and I keep going back every single day. So, I guess the answer to the question of whether I would want to be a learner in my own classroom is an unqualified yes.
This is my third year as a tech coach for my school district. I spend 80% of my day working with adults and only 20% with students (I teach one class instead of the usual 5). It is telling that my time with students is the best time of my day.
The truth is that I learn so much from my students—so much about teaching and about life. I love the challenge that comes out of the lessons that flop and I love when I am able to see small improvements. I love it when I try something new and it works.
If this job were easy, wouldn’t that be boring? Where’s the fun in that?