As a teacher, the responsibilities that loom are seemingly endless. From their emotional well-being to their enthusiasm for education to the vast pressures of standardized test results, we are considered responsible for so many aspects of our students' lives. The expectation that we will be perfect, that mistakes are somehow taboo for a teacher, has ballooned into a disturbing political and pedagogical trend: those with power are so afraid of teachers making mistakes that it is an absurd common belief that the only way to teach our children is through the implementation scripted curricula.
How about this? Let's train and support teachers as PROFESSIONALS, as intelligent and capable individuals with the power to make their own decisions. Let's encourage educators to take risks, to be creative, to work to genuinely connect with students and support them in delving deeper into ideas and interpersonal connections.
On Friday, I took a risk and it basically flopped. It was a fish gasping for air, giving one or two final flops and then lying on the dock waiting to be carried away. Woo hoo. I tried something new and it didn't turn out the way I thought it would. As an improviser, I am encouraged to celebrate my mistakes...to learn from them and move forward. It's taken years of active work to bring this into my practices as a professional.
Here's the story:
I took my class outside to read or journal on a Friday afternoon. At 2:40, I began a game that actually should have taken a full hour. "Tank" is a silly, boisterous game in which each pair of students has one of them blindfolded. That player has a soft ball (tied fabric) that only they can touch. Their partner can show them where to walk, but they cannot touch the ball. Balls that hit the ground can be picked up by blindfolded players. When a blindfolded player is hit, both partners are "out" and join the group of audience players.
The goals for Tank are fairly straightforward. I hope that players will trust their partners. I hope that they will take risks and take care of each other. I hope that the entire group will have fun and enjoy the silliness of the moment.
So, how did I fail? To start, just about everyone cheated. Kids were peeking from under their blindfolds, they were pretending they hadn't been hit, you name it. I'm sure they were cheating in ways I didn't even think one could cheat. Kids were yelling. A cacophony of "You cheated!" and "Hey, you're out!" wasn't exactly the euphonious sounds of harmony I had in mind.
We processed for about 30 seconds and the kids ran out the door at 3:07...to anxious, frustrated, waiting parents.
Hide, right? Nah. I'm a professional, not some hack who waits for instructions from some outside source. My students and I have the power to figure this out. We're an ensemble, dang it. This is what we do.
The next step is to take some time when we have at least an hour to commit to analyzing, problem-solving and playing. We'll discuss the possible benefits and goals of Tank, and we'll analyze what happened when we played last time. We'll develop some expectations and goals for our game on that day, I'll provide intentional pairings, and we'll start by playing inside. We'll process what worked and what was hard, and then we'll move back outside for a big, old-fashioned "do-over". The most important step is to take time to talk about the skills involved in playing the game and how Tank may be a metaphor for learning...or for life.
I'm eager to hear the wisdom offered by these 11-14 year-olds when that discussion happens.