Quick! Your student spent last night without supper, and only had milk and a sandwich for lunch because the meal account was overdrawn. Another was brought here after running away from violence last night. There’s a track meet tonight and 7 kids will be leaving ten minutes early. While you take attendance, you receive an email and send two kids to the counselor’s office. And you take a deep breath, because there are 23 kids still needing you to be your best for the next chunk of time you call a period.
Activating student background knowledge goes waaaayyy beyond the suggestion in the scope & sequence. At best, that document is a suggestion box and at its worst it is an opportunity to try to teacher-proof the process of learning by depending on a single source for answers. You know that your topic (the meaning of the Renaissance, for example) has to connect with their own experience of Renaissance artifacts, and can range from the Mona Lisa to strewing herbs to TMNT (teenage mutant ninja turtles) to whether Robin Hood is a real figure. You decided to place a picture of the roof of the Sistine Chapel on your overhead screen and to ask students to think of a connection between this an another person affected by the Renaissance artistry.
Action that goes beyond worksheets and direct instruction must cast a wide net, allowing student choice and voice in the process; remember, it’s no longer about lecturing and looking for confirmation questions on a piece of paper. Multiple options are offered to help students grapple with today’s concept, but your train of thought is interrupted. Lunch time drama causes one young person to beg for a bathroom pass as you ask another young person to move back on-task to the assignment. Maybe you are encouraging coding and the process of creation through an app like Scratch and directing a student away from an online game that s/he has somehow hacked around the firewall to access.
Reflection is crucial for long-term memory storage, but Oops! it is time for the track team to be going. Ask for an impromptu ticket-out of class on why this stuff matters for today and remind them of the assignment reflection in their journals. Turn to the remaining students and look for stragglers who want to shut down because of the interruptions they just witness. Write a note to remind you to have a discussion about the relevance of reinventing the individual in all ages tomorrow.
If you are a current teacher, I’m probably preaching to the choir. If not, do you still think teaching is like an assembly line? A step-by-step coding process of imparting knowledge? The opening of a port into the brain and pouring in knowledge? Maybe it’s time to stop, buy a teacher in your school a cup of coffee, and sit down and talk about what #TeachingIs This week is a prime opportunity to do that, or even better, to follow a teacher around for a morning. Make sure you follow their lead, including that bathroom schedule, bus duty, and 25 minute duty-free lunch.
To all of my esteemed colleagues, and to teachers who have made such a difference in my own life, let me say, “Thank You so much.” In a time where teachers are overscheduled, underappreciated, and micromanaged in many quarters of the country, there are no words to describe what you do, but you are a hero. I am grateful.