I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I want to run my classes next year. After several years as a tech coach, I have more than my fair share of anxiety about returning to the classroom. What if my ideas have messy results? I once again feel like a pre-service teacher, full of idealism, but a little afraid.
I want my classroom to be a welcoming, beautiful, comfortable place that students look forward to entering. I like what Bill Strickland has to say about the effect of beautiful surroundings on the folks who inhabit them (and please, please take time to watch the video at that link…it’s fantastic). I have a vision for the physical layout of my classroom next year. Picture round tables in the center of my room, with comfortable seating on the perimeter. As long as kids are working, they may sit where they feel comfortable. Will this happen? It’s unlikely, because of the following:
- I will have to share a room with another teacher, and chances are that he/she will not share my enthusiasm for progressive seating arrangements.
- I’d need to procure all items through donation. This morning, my father helped me transport a comfy chair into school, and I might be able to use this in a corner, but it’s only one chair. Money is tight.
- Even if I could obtain lots of tables and comfy chairs, the room is already full of rigid, 1950s-style desk/chair combos. I feel no love for this furniture. The bulky odd shape of each unit pretty much forces the teacher to put students into traditional rows. Some teachers arrange their desk/chair combos in semi-circles, but it’s awkward, and it makes the room hard to navigate. We’re stuck with this furniture, and this furniture is stuck in the Industrial Age. But we’re not preparing students for the Industrial Age anymore. Unfortunately, as I said before, money is tight, and these desk/chair combos are in great condition. We’re not going to see new furniture anytime soon.
So, I want to create a comfy classroom, but it’s going to be a challenge.
Perhaps more radical is my plan to destigmatize the cell phone. It won’t be a free-for-all, just as adult use shouldn’t be a free-for-all, but kids need to learn responsible use. About six years ago, I had to ask a babysitter to stop looking at her cell phone while I explained how to use the Epi-Pen on my daughter if she accidentally ingested a nut. I shouldn’t have had to ask. The teen should have already been told (and told and told) that this use of her personal device was offensive. We never asked her to babysit again. We pay really well, too. Her loss. Still, it troubled me to consider that no one had ever talked to her about responsible use. Parents ought to be doing this, but many are not. A teacher recently said to me, “Aly, it’s not our job. You show me where that is in the curriculum.” I’d like that teacher to show me all the inherent curriculum that is not actually written in our curriculum — stuff like respect and punctuality. Stuff like book cover installation.
And so, in lieu of parental involvement, I actually believe it is our job to teach kids about how not to be offensive with their phones. We don’t though, because we’re so blooming scared of cell phones. In my classroom, I hope to talk openly about these things:
- When it’s OK to look at your phone: during a meeting with your boss, no. During the last minute of my class when everyone is packing up, sure. I expect something in return, though — your good behavior. If you are late or disrespectful, you may find that I don’t allow you to check your phone. If you want the privilege, you need to respect my boundaries.
- How to handle that text message that you just now received: During my instruction, no. When I give the green light in the last minute of class, sure. After all, the beauty of a text message is that it is asynchronous communication. Unlike phone calls, text messages are an alert to get back to someone at your leisure, not theirs. Kids need to learn impulse control, so let’s teach it with the massively strong provocation of a text message alert.
- When and how to silence a cell phone: As soon as you walk into a movie theatre, church, school, or faculty meeting, (ahem!) go on silent. In my class, go on silent AND turn off your vibration, too. That little rumble can be really annoying. Besides, a cell phone buzz is as powerful as Pavlov’s bell, and I don’t want my students to be salivating for their cell phones while I am trying to get them to shun passive voice in their essays. I would also like the kids to place their phones on the corner of their desks, screen side down. A pop-up alert is yet another Pavlovian bell, and we’re going to need strategies to help the kids learn how to stop all that cell phone salivation. Now, some will say that we are creating this issue by allowing the terrible devices in the first place. Seriously, though — the kids currently use these contraband devices in the bathroom stall, inside their lockers, within their pockets during class. Instead of pretending this isn’t an issue already, let’s do something about it.
- What never to say when you text or write online: It’s amazing how bold, lewd, and crude kids will be in their posts. And right now, it’s Lord of the Flies out there (with thanks to Charlie for that analogy). They’re running wild on Social Media Island, and the adults are doing nothing but wringing our hands and lamenting how naughty these pesky kids are with their silly social media tools. Teens have always and will always do really dumb things, but we need to be giving them frequent scenarios that illustrate the terrible potential consequences. We tell them that drinking and driving could lead to violent death, but we don’t tell them how nasty text messages and status updates might come back to haunt them in their personal, academic, and professional lives. Yes, they will still do dumb things, but some of them might actually stop and think, too. We should be trumpeting our advice: If you wouldn’t say it out loud to your teacher, your priest, your rabbi, your pastor, your principal, your boss, your grandma, your boyfriend’s momma or your girlfriend’s daddy, don’t say it anywhere….ANYWHERE.
Aside from the need to educate kids about responsible social media use, we might reap some benefit from allowing managed access to these things at school. An interesting article in The New Yorker hypothesizes that banning and restricting access for adults actually decreases our overall productivity in the workplace. Read the article. The part about the coffee break was striking. What if we give kids “tech breaks” now and then? A minute or two of access might just boost their overall productivity.
My classroom might not be as visionary as the one in my head right now, and I might find that my ideas work better in theory than in practice, but I’m still reaching. I’ll give it a try. If my idea turns out to stink, I’ll change my mind. And if my idea turns out to work really well, I hope other people will change their minds.