Today, I was given the opportunity to see the classroom through the eyes of a student. The way I view everything has completely changed. Things I thought I was passionate about before, I've become a fire-breathing, unicorn prancing, hothead about now. We have got to change the classroom experience for children! We are losing them dammit, and we can't afford that. I hate to sound like a cheesy Whitney Houston song, but Children Our Are Future....we need to treat them better.
Sorry for the rant, I digress.
Picture it, I've gone back to junior high school (GASP) to shadow a former student. A little background on this student: she was a lovely student, although quiet, but I did my best to bring her out of her shell. She excelled in all subjects, gradually became more confident, and she participated in class discussions. She loved science most of all, and she loved the opportunity to be a hands-on learner. When she went on to 5th grade, I missed her terribly, but she continued to do well, and I was able to check on her from time to time. When I was given the opportunity to shadow a student, she's the one that came to mind. I called her mother, explained my task, and voila...I was off to become a junior high student again.
I arrive at the school in time to visit her social studies class. I'm a history major, and I adore a good history class. In fact, I always thought, when I went back to college to become a teacher, I would become a junior high history teacher. I was in my element in a classroom where communism, totalitarianism, and dictatorships were the subject of the day. My inner history nerd swelled with excitement when I saw PERSIA anchor charts in the back of the room. Curtains had been crafted for the picture windows. Soft music was playing in the background..the kind you hum to, not the kind that puts you to sleep. Students were excitedly discussing the differences between each type of leadership in small groups and they were happy to be doing it!! The teacher was walking around and chatting with each group. She offered sage advice, and I even heard another of my former students say, "No, we can't use Wikipedia!" Music to my ears, and I thought to myself, "This day will be amazing!" Sadly, the bell rang, and we were off to math - 6th grade Pre-Ap to be precise.
To be truthful, I've never been a huge fan of math. I've thrown my heart in to making sure my students enjoy math since I never did. Math always left a taste in my mouth reminiscent of a large belch from eating greasy cheeseburgers with extra onions. I aim to make sure that my pubescent feelings about the subject were never transferred to my pre-pubescent students. Already nervous to enter the math room, I paste on my "Oh, I'm so excited about math smile," pull up my big girl panties and go! The first thing I notice is that the walls are GRAY! There is nothing on them. It is a classroom DEVOID of life and personality. The desks are in rows and the warm up is waiting. There is no collaboration here. There is nothing but independent warm ups and the impending doom of worksheets. I feel my armpits start to sweat...I should have started checking for pimples. It was exactly like 1990 in there. I WAS the student. Unlike my own junior high math teacher, this one was young. I expected amazing things to come out of her mouth...an apparition of water in the desert boring subject of math. I was wrong. She was like all the rest, and we were trapped like prisoners in math jail. No one was allowed to talk, no one was allowed to ask questions, they used hand motions to let the teacher know if they didn't understand a concept..although she didn't acknowledge any one of the students who held their thumbs down or sideways. Just like my own junior high days, there was the "know it all" and just like then, this teacher beamed and called on this student constantly. My own sweet former student didn't say a word, didn't get an acknowledgement of her side-ways turned thumb, and the smile that had just been on her lips from social studies was well and truly gone. I was so angry it was hard to hold back my frustrations...but I did. I left that classroom thinking, no wonder we are in the bottom tier of math education. We make it boring and lifeless. It truly sucks to be a math student. We have to give our students the opportunity to collaborate. I don't care how gifted a teacher you are, students will ALWAYS learn better from each other. Face it, they speak a language we don't.
Since my former student had lunch and gym (cringe) next, I was able to take a bit of a break and get rid of my excess anger and reflect on what I needed to change in my own teaching. I was excited to return an hour later for science and a redemption of the day. I'm a complete science lover, so I was on cloud nine at the opportunity to feed my inner science nerd.
I would love to be able to say that I ended the day as a happy junior high student, but I would be lying. Science was much like math. The classroom was old and dank, there were posters from 1977 on the wall...pretty sure Nuclear Fission is NOT a 6th grade TEK. Computer boxes were used as a makeshift place for students to place their science journals. There was absolutely no care taken in that room. How can students take pride in their work when they know they will turn it in to a plain cardboard box? The lab the students did was the same lab my sweet K had done in my class two years prior. This wasn't the learning that our students need to be successful in the future. This was the same old same old that the kids had already done. You didn't have to make a prediction because you already knew what was going to happen! This wasn't an exploration...this was "I'm going to spoon feed you everything you need to know...feel free to add a teddy bear to my collection" situation. I left the class early and I felt completely dejected as I got in my vehicle and headed back to my own campus.
I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to do this. I know it doesn't sound like it, but today is going to make me a better teacher to my current students...and I'm going to make sure that I check on my sweet K a little more often. I may send home sweet confidence building notes and maybe get her a kitten poster that says, "hang in there." Perhaps I should make her a mix tape with all the classic songs...Hanging Tough? Eye of the Tiger?