Good ’til the Last Drop

I have most certainly been conditioned as an educator. From the moment I step into my room and take attendance, my inner teacher voice compels me with veracity to be immediately sure every student in my room in working with language arts. Whether they’re reading, writing, or participating in a conversation I can clearly document, assess, and tie to common core is irrelevant — I just need them working.

As I participate more and more in creating a consensual learning environment in my classroom, that inner teacher voice gets louder and louder reaching a voluminous zenith. I see students deciding not only what to read, but when to read. I see some students utilizing self-guided group work time to work as an individual. I see some students zoned out wearing earbuds adoring one of several glowing screens: others speak in a volume between “inside and outside voice.” I see all of this and, despite the quantitative research qualifying my grounds for fostering such a classroom, my inner teacher is screaming for partitioned rows of silent students notating my every word over a topic I was unfamiliar with until researching that state mandated language arts datum.

I’m not sure why, precisely, this voice still has enough clout to muster ill feelings of regret and anxiety within considering my understanding of best practice and the ethical treatment of a human being. I don’t know why, but I certainly know when. If I assign something, and they don’t do it — I hear the voice. If I’m speaking on a topic, and they aren’t intrigued or at least listening attentively — I hear the voice. If they aren’t using their designated language arts class time to work on language arts — I hear the voice. Though I know these situations to be dictatorial, non consensual, and draconian (both respectively and interchangeably it would seem), the teacher voice still cries out from within.

 Normal School

Normal School

Why aren’t you reprimanding more often? it asks. They aren’t actually learning anything! it utters. If they won’t do the work, make it extrinsically valuable and test them on it! it suggests. This is extremely common among all educators: not only the voice, but the actions listed as well. As many educators attempt to shift a paradigm focusing on a new modus operandi they are continually bombarded by the inner homunculus suggesting traditional methods. This can most certainly be attributed to the very traditional and consistent schooling (which can be traced back to Mann’s Common Schools), and the accrediting of modern educators (which we can trace back to Mann’s Normal Schools).

Common. Normal. Two very particular words chosen with great specificity, I imagine.

We, as educators, are set up to feel an increasing urge to reduce consent in a classroom and instead fill the void with demands and commands, carrots and sticks. Many will often reflect after a long day of learning, wondering why specific subjects must be learned at specific times. Many will reflect and consider the absurdity of creating a lesson plan that 20 to 30 people will all find equally as enjoyable. Many will reflect and wonder if what is happening is truly best practice, or instead, simply preparing students to live a very common and normal life in which they can raise similarly common and normal children. We reflect and we wonder because we know something just isn’t right. Not all students want to be mathematicians, literary agents, scientists, or historians. In fact, many traditional models of high school seem to be preparing every student to in turn eventually teach in that high school. What else would one do with a mediocre understanding of these specific four subjects?

Literacy is of utmost importance. A general understanding of common mathematical principles is of utmost importance. A general understanding of scientific thinking (what many are referring to now as first principlesthinking), is of utmost importance. A general understanding of our country’s quite violent history — moreover civic duties — is of utmost importance. I can’t imagine anyone arguing that. However, enforcing these studies over extended periods of time to the levels of extremity currently found in traditional — common — schools (e.g., algebra 2, physical science, etc.), is abhorrent. There is no focus on individual student’s understanding, ability, or interest at this point. The only focus is ubiquitous consistency. The two terms do sound quite redundant, but so do normal and common. I’m merely rowing in a familiar boat.

 Free time? Memorize some vocabulary, perhaps!

Free time? Memorize some vocabulary, perhaps!

It seems I may have finally breached the definitive point of this blog, and that is another common and normal issue educators have internal struggles over: time spent on task. Time not wasted while in class. A simple Google search regarding methods to effectively using every waking second of class will conjure plenty of results. Differing results explaining how to use the remaining 15, 10, or even 5 remaining minutes of a class will purpose varying activities for your subject matter. These activities will help to ensure educators never give students a moment of respite. Why is it necessary? Why is it of utmost importance that teenagers never take 5, 10, even 15 minutes to marinate? They go through subject after subject taking in common and normal information with veritably no time to process or comprehend the information before new information is being poured in. This is an inner monologue that I believe could be won easily; let them rest. Not every waking second of class time needs to be spent analyzing, reviewing, reading, listening, etc. Sometimes merely existing can be efficient enough. Exist, be, and breathe.