Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Default Setting: Blackberry

When’s the last time you saw a Blackberry? I don’t mean the fruit. I mean the smartphone. The other day, I was standing in line waiting to check out, and I noticed there was a man using a Blackberry. I made a face that I’m sure was misconstrued as one of horror or disgust. But, honestly, that was the first time I’d seen a Blackberry in quite some time. I must say it took me by surprise, and I thought to myself, “I wonder why he has a Blackberry? Perhaps it must be for work?” I truly was stunned because it wasn’t the typical iPhone or Android smartphone that have become the standard.

Lately, in my teaching career, I’ve been feeling like a Blackberry. Why? Because I am a fifth grade teacher in a self-contained classroom.

For some reason, “self-contained” classrooms seem to have moved from being the norm to being an exception. “Self-contained” has become a painful word to many. It’s a word that makes people crinkle their faces and look at you like a poor, lost puppy shivering in the rain. “Ooh, I feel so sorry for you.” “How do you survive teaching all the subjects?” These are just a few of the reactions that are becoming more typical. They’re similar to the looks of sympathy you get if you only have an iPhone 4s.  Or, heaven forbid, a flip phone!

I am the Blackberry. Departmentalization has become the new and improved. Why? Since when did being a self-contained teacher become not cool? When did departmentalization in elementary school become the default?

So often, my students are able to make connections to concepts and skills we discussed earlier in the day. Our lives are all about bringing people and ideas together, not isolating them in separate silos. I look at teaching being about creating a culture of learning that’s dictated by the child, not the clock. If I want to spend longer than my normal math block doing a rich mathematical task, so be it. If the conversation about our read aloud is going longer than usual, that’s okay. If that’s what my tribe needs, that’s what we do. I can skip writer’s workshop today because I know we are going to be blogging our math reflections on our last unit test. I love how reinforcement of my students' learning often occurs when a concept is applied to areas different from which I originally taught them. I would struggle not seeing this integrative process take place if I taught in a departmentalized classroom.

I am told that a wonderful 5th grade teacher, Mary Lee Hahn, says, “I am not a teacher of content. I am a teacher of children.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am not a content expert, and I don’t claim to be one. I am not the best literacy teacher. I am not the best math teacher. I do not understand every single scientific theory about the universe. But, I don't have to be. Instead, I hope I can create an integrated learning experience for the twenty-something learners in my class.

I strive to make my classroom not be only about the act of knowing; it should be about the experience of learning. In other words, learning is not always strictly about content.