“Open Here”

I asked my students an interesting question to start class the other day. I said, “How do you think I learned how to teach?”  Almost all of them thought  I went to college to learn it, and that I learned to teach from other adults, probably women. I then asked this- what would they think if I told them I didn’t have a teaching degree.

They had a quick minute of horror- and then the comments. “Well, we wouldn’t think you were a bad person.” “We would think you weren’t as smart as we used to.” “Maybe someone could help you.”  (I supressed the chuckles.)

Then I dropped the bomb. I don’t have a teaching degree. My degree is in Equine Studies- a glorified horse trainer. My masters is in technology, but not with a bend towards teaching. So who taught me how to teach? They did.

The kids teach me every day. If I have behavior issues in my classroom, it’s not because a kid got up that morning dreaming up ways to make me mad. It’s more likely because they are bored or confused.

Having said all that, it sometimes takes me a while to learn.

When I asked  my first two classes to come up with ideas for a different way to do school, I stood on one side of the class. I told them the situation-that I needed their ideas about how we could change school. I talked about changes in schedule, setting, groupings, etc.

They came up with the idea of having bean bags instead of chairs. That was the best they could do- the farthest out they could see.

I was a bit deflated. What was wrong with these kids? They had no imagination. Couldn’t they see the possibilities in front of them? Why weren’t they reaching farther?

DUH! I had sat them firmly in the same old box. Sit at your desk, listen to me while I stand in front of you, think quietly and answer the question. Oh, and by the way, be very creative and think about something that clearly doesn’t exist.

Today I did it differently. We left the chairs and sat on the floor- anywhere in the room was fine so long as they could see and be seen. They could lean against the wall or lay on the floor. Most chose to be part of a cluster but not all.

I took a banana and asked how I should open it. Most of them suggested grabbing the stem, twisting it, biting it, or cutting it with a knife.

We all agreed that was the way you open a banana.

But what if we looked at it differently? A banana has two ends. How about if we pinched the other end? It actually works better- and opens easily. They were amazed- and it set the stage for thinking from a different angle.

We (teachers and students) often look at school from the “stem” end. We twist teaching, we bite at curriculum, we struggle with what we know because it’s what we know. I asked the kids to look at school from the other end- how could we do things drastically differently to get the job done? And maybe more easily.

They were enthused and brainstormed with a great deal of energy. Here are some of their ideas-as they wrote them:

  • Each student has their own teacher
  • Pick your own classes and schedule
  • Make compost and don’t waste so much food
  • Have school for 12 hours Mon -Wed
  • Everything should be hands on and only have supervision, warnings to dangerous things, and a idea from the teachers.
  • Have a vote (by teachers and students) which subjects are more important and teach them first.
  • I learn best about animals. I wish I could learn at the zoo.
  • Less stuff to carry around
  • More exercise aloud during the school day.

The moral of the lesson for me was this: If I want them to think “out of the box” then I have to step out of it as well. Thank goodness those kids are patient teachers.


2 responses to ““Open Here”

  1. I had nearly the exact same response when I asked my students what their idea of a perfect school was. I had similar end responses as well, my students want animals to be a part of their school day in some capacity, they want to be comfortable, they want to be in control of their learning. And as I sit and learn about teaching reading blogs, I am sitting with my dog, comfortably on the couch, learning what I want to learn when I want to learn it. Hmmm….
    I love your banana illustration, a great one!

  2. At the beginning of a course, I ask my students what they’d like to learn in the class. I stress that I’m not asking what they think I will teach them or what they think the curriculum says but rather what they want to learn. They often seem to think it a trick question. I may have to start using the banana metaphor as an intro.

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