It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Holidays have a way of either bringing great joy or severe stress and often at the same time.

I remember my teacher days and the varying degrees of both joy and stress as I planned lessons and activities for the months of November and December.

JOY

I welcomed a slight detour and diversion from the “regular” curriculum in order to bring a different kind of learning into and out of the classroom. I could catapult new learning  into something far more exciting and enjoyable by ditching the conventional text books and finding more authentic avenues for discovery. A strange subversive awareness launched my mind and heart into an exhilarating realm that super charged my internal batteries as well as those of the children. The buzz was palpable.

Exposing children to winter holidays celebrated around the world and in particular various cultures and beliefs in our country, always included a few field trips to plays, musicals, museums, walks, and visits to local businesses or factories. It also provided opportunity for classroom visitors.

Families that did not celebrate holidays were open to their children learning about them. I provided a calendar of events and lessons in advance and never once had a family decline to participate. The emphasis was on the learning not the holiday.

Plenty of books we read together, our own stories we shared, art and music we experienced, recipes we followed and made, and family meals together in our classroom brought a strong and trusting level of relationship like nothing else could.

The learning became more organic and often their questions and discoveries led to more questions and discoveries. Their faces told the story of what was happening all around them. We experienced pure and joyful learning.

STRESS

I was not following the agreed upon grade level curriculum for over a month! I worried that my students might miss important lessons in math and science which were key assessment areas they had to know by spring testing time. If they had low scores, I would be the one responsible and my principal would inform me. Poor results means poor teaching and everyone understood that. No one wants to be a poor teacher.

A few fellow teachers resented my “out of the box” efforts at learning. They made sure I understood that my unconventional approach made them look bad. Some handed me the guilty card saying that I was “robbing the students” of valuable learning time. Unsettling to say the least.

How do you return to the strict adherence of determined grade level material when you’ve opened Pandora’s Box? How do you go back to coloring within the lines when you’ve just gone off the paper entirely? How do you continue to teach under the pressure of accountability, enforcement, and artificial deadlines? You just do it. Your paycheck depends upon the status quo.

Insights from a former status quo adherent.

  • The schooling system is not structured to enable, emphasize or value authentic, joyful learning. In fact it more often prohibits it.
  • No matter how hard teachers try to make lessons engaging, the minute a score or grade is placed on any of the student’s efforts, it becomes less engaging.
  • Getting good grades is a result of regurgitating information in an acceptable manner. It has nothing to do with real learning.
  • Teachers who veer off script are often seen as subversive and undermining the goals of their profession.
  • Forty four percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years. EdBlog

I am still convinced that how we do traditional schooling is incrementally damaging. I  hope that someday we become brave enough to dismantle the status quo and unleash real learning to better prepare our children for their future.

Students asking insightful questions generated from their own inquisitiveness, being able to delve deeply into a topic without an artificial cut off, testing hunches with trial and error and not evaluation, locating and utilizing accurate sources and resources, and understanding the importance of their contributions to the world are patterns of behavior that will serve them well.

Just point them in the right direction and watch them GO!

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