I am fortunate enough to work in a school in Manhattan that trusts and respects teachers. The Department of Education and the current government seem to think that we need to be monitored and closely watched or we will (heaven forbid) use our own judgments in selecting the ways the students before us learn best. Politicians and policy makers who have never stepped foot in a classroom are telling me that they know more about the 13 students in my class than I do. Well, I guess that makes sense, I only spend seven hours a day, five days a week with them. There are now scripted programs being pushed that promote teacher as technician…each classroom teaching the same thing, in the same way, at the same time regardless of student learning. If little Suzy does not quite get on board, well something must be wrong with her! The era of ‘blame the child’ is a little too precious.
But, all is not lost. Take heart.
Our school has been fostering the Reggio Emilia approach to education for the last six years. This approach which began in Italy has a deep rooted respect for children. Their interests, concerns and talents are springboards into exploration and learning. One aspect of this approach is a focus on environment. Natural light, uncluttered workspaces, organized materials available for projects, mirrors and reflected light, students work displayed prominently and an emphasis on the process rather than the product are all components. To this end, I have spent much time arranging the classroom so that students feel welcomed and respected. It is a process in itself and together we make changes to fit our circumstances. I think it has been successful.
I was chatting with a teacher friend recently and the topic of classroom environment came up. I had been in his classroom and felt overwhelmed and uneasy. I had to say something, subtly of course. Well, maybe not so subtle because he got defensive and said he could never get behind “The classroom as a living room”. Maybe children do learn better when they have teachers who follow scripts or cluttered, unorganized classrooms. I only have a group of first graders who know more about Greek Mythology than most high schoolers, but who am I?