Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Doing It Different

a #WeirdEd Week 121 post

I'm beginning to think I don't teach like other teachers...

You (we) never really know how we teach compared to anyone else. Teaching is one of those things that's hard to compare. Not because it's impossible to tell a good teacher from a bad one, though sometimes the bad ones slip through on charisma and noise, but because when do we have time to see someone else teach? Ideally a coach will come in to our class, take over for an hour, and we get to go hang in room 15 for a bit and learn. But we all know that's not how that works. For a myriad of reasons. Maybe your coach is overworked. Maybe you never think to make that plan. Maybe the teacher you want to observe doesn't want to be observed. Roadblocks, speed bumps, barriers. Besides, sub plans are a pain in the planner. Easier to stay in the room and keep on truckin'.

This is one of the reasons I ask to have a student teacher. I want another set of eyes in my classroom. Right now I have two (kinda). There are two student teachers at my school- Veronica and Jill. Veronica is placed in my class and Jill is placed in a second grade class. Every few weeks Veronica and Jill will switch for a week to see how the other side lives. Right now we're on a switch and Jill is hanging out in my room getting her teach on. I've talked briefly about Veronica already. Jill was a substitute teacher before she became a student teacher so she's coming to us with a unique perspective on the whole thing. She's got some classroom experience, and their ain't no experience like substitute teaching. She's got ideas she wants to try and a good energy. She's not afraid to ask me my rationale for doing things after I've done them. I welcome all of this because it's how she learns and how I get better. Forced reflection is good.

Conversations with the two of them remind me that my classroom, my way of doing things, is...somewhat unusual. I want to be clear here, I do think I am a good teacher. I know we're not supposed to say things like that, I should be falsely modest and disingenuous "I don't know why they are giving me a student teacher, I'm not doing anything special." But you all know that's bull. I'm pretty good at a lot of things. But I also want to be clear that my unusual way is not better than anyone else's way. I'm not saying all of you should be teaching my way, I'm not even telling Jill or Veronica to teach my way. I'm very purposefully giving them opportunities to find their own teaching voice and style while with me. "Try something. Make a lesson that catches fire and crashes into the swamp. It's fine, you can't break my class. We can put them back together after a bad lesson." And my room communicates that, with my unusual desks and alternative seating and sheet metal dry erase boards and blue hair. This is a laboratory.

And it's different. Not better. Different. But I wonder why more classrooms aren't different. Why are so many classrooms basically the same? I mean, I see conversations about taking risks all the time. I see costumes and bulletin boards and book studies about being different. But I don't see a lot of different. One more time, to be perfectly clear, I'm not saying, "why aren't more of you taking the legs off your desks"? I'm saying, "Do you think your room is different?" And is it important to you for your room to be different?

I think that might be a me and people like me thing, to be honest. I don't want to be like you. I want to be like me. I want to chase the dragon, so to speak. Pursue a classroom unlike any other. While always keeping my kids and their learning and comfort in mind, I really honestly want to create a classroom that doesn't look like any other, doesn't sound like any other, that gives adults at the least a little cognitive dissonance and at best a small panic attack because look at the piles and where are the kids sitting and what the heck is going on in here? I like that.

I know we all teach differently. I know my differently is very visually differently, which makes it easy to spot. I also know that the teacher up the hall and across is teaching his class differently in a much quieter way and his kids are killing it. So, much like a teenager full of existential angst, I'm wondering if we're all different. Are we all striving to be? What I'm scared the answer is is a flip, "Hey, it's Common Core, so we should all be the same." That's not what it means and you know it, stop making excuses. Not even in the Dark Days of No Child Left Behind, my first year of teaching, when a woman from the district would come by my classroom and check to be sure that at 9:30am on Tuesday I was on the Vocabulary Section of that week's story just like everyone else teaching third grade (true story), was every classroom exactly the same.

Our kids deserve classrooms that are different. We deserve to make our classrooms our own. How do we do that? How do you?

1 comment:

  1. So true - especially about the importance of having fresh sets of eyes and gaining experience of how other teachers do things.

    Responding to your main point, I would add that it is less important for classrooms to be different than it is for teachers to be different people for different students at different times. Every teacher finds their own voice and style eventually - but it's not all about the teacher. Sometimes the teacher needs to become someone they are not in order to be able to help the student who needs the quieter touch. At other times we need to be full of energy and enthusiasm, when perhaps we don't feel like it, in order to energise our more lethargic students. The really important 'difference' in my view comes from the teacher being a different person for different people in different situations.