Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Teaching In The Real World

For quite some time now, I've not myself opened any of the boxes that arrive at our school, instead bringing them into the classroom, enjoying a bit of speculative conversation with the kids about what might be inside, then turning them loose on the project of testing their theories while building their self-contained classroom democracy.

So when our new shop vac arrived, a gift from Addison's grandma Arthea, I said, "Hey, look what we need to open." Judging from the graphic on the outside of the box, a few of us thought (hoped) we'd received an R2D2 style robot, but once Rex told us it was a new vacuum, we rallied around that point of view.

Our old one crapped out on us last week, and we're the kind of school that really needs a way to pull water out of rug, so we're quite grateful for this kindness from across the country.

I asked George and Vivian's dad Terry to keep an eye on the project and when it turned out there was some assembly required, he coached the kids through that as well. And now we once more have the ability to suck a carpet dry.

I'm sure I'd be incapable of working in another kind of school, the sort in which the pedagogically correct thing to do when a box arrives isn't to just turn it over to the kids on the spot. I plan, of course. In fact, I spend the better part of 2 hours each morning planning with my full body, hauling things in and out of the storage room, shifting furniture, pulling out boxes of this or that, but that's all really only in case nothing better pops up during the course of our time together.

Yesterday in another part of the room I'd set up an old battery powered slot car track. I'd tested it, but as it turns out only one of the tracks was working properly. Slot car tracks are a popular challenge, requiring a careful finger on the trigger if your car isn't going to go flying off the track, but that's not what the kids worked on. As the children arrived, they crowded the table, the assembly quickly devolving toward a pushing, demanding mass of humanity. Our full contingent of adults hadn't yet arrived and I was being called elsewhere, so instead of staying to manage the process, I said, "I have to go over there. You guys need to figure out how to take turns or no body's going to have any fun." I then left them. A little later, Luca's mom Megan arrived to take her spot as parent-teacher responsible for our "table toys" station. When I checked in, she said, "It's amazing how well these guys are taking turns."

I'm sure I'd be incapable of working in another kind of school, the sort in which slot car tracks can never be a part of the curriculum, in which broken things get tossed in the trash, and in which children's conflicts require adult management. I don't know how they worked it among themselves -- no one does but the kids involved -- but let me tell you, it wasn't magic, although it was still amazing. I've spent the better part of two years (or more in some cases) working with these children, repeating myself over and over, having my word then walking away. I now work in a school in which the children know what to do when there is only one of something and 20 of them.

On the weekend I grabbed a large brown paper sack, one that looked like an oversized yard waste bag. On it someone had taped a note, "Up for grabs. It inflates!" I almost didn't snag it. In fact, I forgot it the first time, then only went back the following day because I was killing time and saw it again. 

Yesterday, I got out the foot pump and we went to work attempting to inflate it, again with Terry's help. The idea was for the kids to do it, but it quickly became clear that they weren't going to be able to pump fast enough to fill the thing as almost as much air was escaping back out through the valve as was going in. So I took on the job. The larger it got, the more the children gathered around. 

"What is it?" "Why do we have this?" "It's a big pillow." "I want to jump on it."

I'm sure I'd be incapable of working in another kind of school, the sort in which large, inflatable paper bags don't come into play. At first children were bouncing off the thing, hitting it with their bodies, then being bounced either back or over the thing onto the ground. Terry and I caught the ones we could, but they soon figured out the physics of the thing. We couldn't do much about the ones who knocked noggins, although they soon figured out that the best plan was to all go around to one side, pointing their heads in one direction.

I'm sure I'd be incapable of working in another kind of school, the sort in which problems are just theoretical things to solve on paper or white boards or iPads; the sort in which adults make the rules instead of the kids.

I'm only capable of this, teaching in the real world, and I'm so happy about that.

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Nikoli said...

I think you're wrong, Sir. I do believe you COULD "teach" in another kind of school. And you would be one of the BEST and most favorite teachers of the children/young adults. Because you would not teach, you would find a way to help them LEARN. Yes, our toddlers are certainly in desperate need for TeacherTom clones, but our older children and 'other kinds of schools' are in equal need.

Please don't discount your guidance style to older students. I dare say there's a career in developing a new teaching 'style' for the more mundane/linear subjects. So when you need a new challenge... ;)

Thanks for all that you do!

Julie Lawrence said...

You are *way* awesome :)

Sharon said...

I love this. That's the world I teach in too, only in my family child care home.

miss kim said...

Very nice! Love the big inflatable bag!

Anonymous said...

That's why I now do supply teaching - in a quest to find your type of school in London.In certain schools I find aspects of this style of teaching but never quite as free as it should be.

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