I went to school in the Caribbean. While I cannot honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed school, I did well and I am very grateful for the quality education which I received. Education in the Caribbean, at least when I went and when I started out as a teacher, is very traditional. It demands a lot from students and there is a high standard of discipline. When I was in school, students sat in very orderly rows. I remember 'copying notes' from the chalkboard (yes, I said chalkboard, not whiteboard). We were drilled and quizzed in spelling and 'times tables'. We had exercise books and text books for just about every subject - and heaven have mercy on you if you forgot a required book at home. We all read the same passages from the same Reading books. We had copious amounts of homework every night. End of term tests were the bane of the existence of both students and teachers alike (one group had to take them, one group had to prepare and grade them). Things might have changed in the 5-ish years that I've been in the US, but that's what school was like when I was a student and when I had my first classroom.
Now I did say that I appreciate the education and discipline that I received, It helped make me the person that I am today. But it was never the way that I wanted to teach. I didn't want my classroom to be made up of neat little rows of students who sat still for hours everyday, copying work off their board or doing pages and pages of work from a text book. So now that I have lots of freedom to run my classroom as I want, it is definitely unorthodox. My students and I sit around one table. It's easier for me to monitor what they're doing or for us to all share one book. There are autographed posters from the ballet on the walls. There are shelves and shelves of wonderful books. The windowsills are covered in plants that refuse to grow straight up and are as unorthodox as their environment.
That's the classroom. Now for the activities. To the ordinary observer (borrowing a term from Anne of Green Gables), these do not look like school activities. An ordinary observer might see two kids sitting at their desks, playing a video game - Sid Meier's Civilization V, to be precise. But an extraordinary observer might realize that my students are learning so much about Social Studies and Geography as they create their civilizations: Should I create a farm or a trading post? How much is my citrus worth in a trade agreement? Should I build a new city so far away from my capital? The mountains which are protecting my city are also making it harder for me to travel between cities. So, yes, there'll be video games in my classroom. To the ordinary observer, there are three persons (who don't vary in height much) lounging on the floor. To the extraordinary observer, we are reading and discussing Black Beauty. Who says you have to sit at a desk to read? How many people always sit at a desk when they're doing pleasure reading anyway? To the ordinary observer, we're just looking at a YouTube video. To the extraordinary observer, we're learning about Estonia, or some other Country of the Day. To the ordinary observer, their teacher is doing something on her phone. To the extraordinary observer, I was stumped by a question from my 7 year old student so I'm looking it up.
So yes, my classroom is unorthodox and I'm unorthodox, even a little odd. But my students do well. They excel on, and even enjoy the yearly standardized test which they have to take. They both read above their grade level and can talk your ear off about science. Beyond all that, my students are learning that learning can and should be fun. They're learning to think for themselves. They're taking responsibility for their own learning when they choose what and how much to read. They're learning that there isn't always just one right answer. They're learning about the value and beauty of other countries and cultures. They're learning that I don't have all the answers just because I'm older than they are. They're seeing that learning should continue throughout life. Isn't that what any teacher would want for his/her students?
What do you think? I'd love to hear from fellow teachers, or anyone who's ever been a student for that matter.