I apologize if the title brings on any Ed. students’ PDSD (that’s Post-Dewey Stress Disorder, for those of you not in the field).
This weekend I went through a bunch of my old grad school materials, looking for curriculum ideas. And I found one! This is the beginning of a relief map of North America, which we’re doing in my classroom as a culminating project for our North America study. It should be noted that on Friday, when I asked my co-teacher if we were going to do any kind of culminating project, she said, “What?”
I said, “How do you usually end one unit and move on to the next one?”
She said, “We take the old materials off the shelves and put new ones on.”
But, since the school is trying to be some kind of Montessori/Reggio Emilia hybrid, she’s open to suggestions. This morning, several students and I made (gluten-free!) clay out of cornstarch and salt, colored it, and then pored over an atlas to figure out where the mountains in North America are, and how we could represent them. There was math, there was science, there was geography, there was literacy, there was collaboration, there was learning.
Though I was ready to be finished with grad school, I didn’t expect to need much of a break from my books, notes, and resources. It was comforting to look back into the Bank Street bubble, at those idealized classrooms, at the curricula that I got to write for an imaginary group of children. One major philosophical difference between what I learned in grad school and what I’m doing now is who makes meaning in the classroom. In my current classroom culture (and yes, we’re nominally co-teachers, but she’s been there for fifteen years, is older than me, and knows where everything is, so…you know how that goes), the teachers set out materials with very specific uses and meanings, and the children gradually discover those meanings during their time in the classroom. I can’t say how characteristic this is of Montessori classrooms, but from my limited experience and the reading I’ve done, I’d say it’s pretty typical. In the kind of classroom where I want to teach, children are provided with foundational materials, out of which they can make their own meaning. Paper, markers, paint, blocks, clay, pieces of fabric…in the classroom I want to build, these things are what the children decide they are. They learn about maps by observing places and drawing pictures. Learning doesn’t have to be abstract when it can be real.
Well, I’ve known for a while that a straight-up progressive education rant was coming. There you have it! I’m not going to be changing jobs anytime soon, in part because I’ve spent the last two years on what’s felt like a continuous job search and in part because, all my ranting aside, this is a really good job I’ve got here. I can save these experiences, I can learn what I can, I can be a tremendous asset to my classroom and the school…and then, when it’s time, I can move on with a better idea of what I want and how to build it.