The Fake, Utopian Classroom
You enter your classroom and the students greet you with respect. They thoughtfully ask about your day. They’re intimately familiar with the classroom structure, so naturally, they grab the warm up materials, take out their pencils, and diligently start tackling the warm up learning tasks you’ve posted on the chalkboard. You take attendance with your back turned to the class, and they’re so engaged, they don’t even notice. One student (there’s always that one...) turns to a friend and tries to pass a note, but the vast majority of the students are so focused on their task that they never even notice, and one girl actually shushes him so she can focus.
Naturally, the phone rings, and while you answer it, still with your back turned, one of the elite students from the front of the room assumes command of the class and starts going over the warm-up learning task. The rest of the students ask clarifying questions, and alter their answers based on input from their classmates. You finally turn to the class, and your ‘collector’ student has collected everyone’s warm-up activity and placed it in the appropriate bin on your desk.
Now the real fun starts! Your lesson is an engaging gallery walk, where students move from document to document around the room and respond to whatever task or question is attached to it. No one repeats an answer from a group before them because it’s against the rules, and they’re deeply invested in the educational value of this assignment. No one jostles or touches each other because you mentioned once in the beginning of the year that during a gallery walk, no one jostles or touches each other when moving from one location to another.
Once every student has visited every document, the time keeper (he’s a super-useful guy to have around, and it’s a great use of a student’s instructional time to focus really hard on that clock) announces once, clearly, that it’s time for everyone to return to their seats. Your collector grabs all the papers while your reporter moves to the front of the room, and you move to the back.
Students are so familiar with this activity that without any reminders, they know that as the reporter reads everyone's’ answers, their job is to select the best three responses from each card. Everyone’s hand is up, but your student-selector can only pick one person at a time, and everyone else is disappointed because they deeply and truly wanted to share their thoughts as they objectively evaluate the validity of each of their classmates responses.
The principal walks in, but none of the students notice, because they’re busy examining the merits of each of their classmates responses, and giving constructive feedback, or academic accolades, to each response as it’s read. The principal slips to the back and speaks with the teacher, motioning that they need some privacy in the hallway, still unnoticed by the students. The teacher looks to one of the students in the class, and like every police television show ever filmed, the teacher simply says ‘you take it over from here Johnny’ and Johnny flawlessly slips into control of the class while the teacher and principal enter the hallway. They have a brief conversation separated from the students with a fire-rated door, but the lesson goes on because Johnny is in command.
As the teacher re-enters the room, the timekeeper (bless his heart) reminds the class-wrapper-upper that it’s her time to shine. She walks over to the ‘Learning Summary’ bulletin board and asks the students to summarize their learning for the day in one, concrete statement. She writes all their responses on a whiteboard, and then compiles them into one, beautifully written statement, which she hangs in the appropriate location on the board. Everyone looks thoughtfully at the learning summary, and the class-wrapper-upper runs a brief discussion where students connect today’s learning with previous learning, with their present lives, and with their future, naturally exclusively college-bound, hopes and dreams.
The final bell rings but the students don’t move an inch. No one has packed up their materials. No one even noticed the time passing, except the timekeeper, who was aware of every second and never noticed any of the pretty girls making googly eyes at him, such is his devotion to the clock. They finally look to the teacher, who gives a single up nod, notifying everyone that it is acceptable for them to leave for their next class. At this point, notebooks are carefully organized and put away. Materials and assignments are dropped in their allotted spots, and the room is left spotless and slightly more organized than when the students entered.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.