In my real life I teach middle school language arts. Specifically, seventh grade language arts (I can feel all of you out there in cyberspace writhing with jealousy). This week, my classes are completing our drama unit. And this week, I am being a bad teacher.
We started by reading a teleplay of an old Twilight Zone episode out of our textbook. Then we got out of our seats and acted out part of the play, with yours truly as director. Then they divided into groups and were given scripts for Aesop’s Fables turned skits. One student in each group is the director, one is the set designer, and the rest are actors/actresses. They will present their creations in a one time only premiere on Tuesday during class. Get your tickets folks, they’re going fast.
One of the reasons I LOVE doing this project is because the kids are soooo engaged in what they are doing. Here are some of their sets and props in progress:
A view of the classroom from my desk. You can clearly see a setting sun (which will be held up to indicate the change of day) and some trees and clouds to the right.
This is a cobble stone path in progress.
A picket fence to enclose the goose who lays the golden eggs.
I literally hand them the script on the first day of the project, provide them with supplies, and then sit back (it actually ends up being an incredibly boring week for me). They do EVERYTHING. And they love it. Sure, there are conflicts among group members. Of course there are differences of opinions about who is right and who is wrong. If it looks like it will come to tears or blows, I step in. But if not...they work it out. That’s what learning to get along with others is all about. If they ask me “Can we do *insert crazy idea* with our play?” my answer is a shrug of the shoulders. They figure it out.
This project is so engaging that I have students clamoring to stay after school to work on it. Students who would never dream of stepping foot in a classroom after the last bell rings are asking if they can stay with me to work on their sets. They are totally engaged in what they are doing. They are taking ownership of their learning. They are exercising their creative muscles. They are collaborating, problem solving, visualizing, delegating, time managing, and practicing a host of other real world skills. So why do I only spend two weeks doing this if it’s such a great project? Why don’t I do other things like this the whole year long? For one simple answer:
It’s not on the state standardized test.
They learn a lot doing this project. What they DON’T learn is as follows: identify various figures of speech in an old, dead, white guy’s writing; write a five paragraph essay; make a plot diagram; anaylze a chart of someone else’s research; etc. These are the things that are on the test. These are the things that the state department of education has deemed “important.” And so these are the things that I am confined to in my classroom for the majority of the school year.
According to the people who tell me whether or not I get to keep my job, good teacher = my students performing well on the test (in layman’s terms: getting a lot of questions right). Following that logic, then, a teacher will teach what is on the test so that her students will be able to perform well and she will be judged a “good teacher.” This week, I am not teaching anything that is on the state test. I am teaching real world applicable life skills. And it is not a huge stretch of the imagination to say that, if certain administrators were to walk into my classroom, I could be reprimanded for this. Because not just the teachers but the whole district is judged by how well the students perform on the test.
So, ladies and gentleman, I present to you: A bad teacher. Shame on me for teaching them something useful.