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Staging the Teacher Robot Revolution

Mrs. Mimi's Chalk Talks

Staging the Teacher Robot RevolutionIn my previous teaching life, and by that I mean in my heinous first job, I was forced to work with a scripted curriculum that made me feel more like a robot than an actual professional.


Let me paint a picture for you. This is how a math lesson went in my first grade classroom:



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[hands up in the children’s faces like a traffic cop desperately trying to not lose my place in the manual, or as I liked to call it, bonfire material]
“What’s 2 + 2?”
[Pause for dramatic flair of the hand followed by a snap, yes a snap. It was explicitly stated in the bonfire material that I was to snap...and who knows what would happen if I deviated from the text? Hey, it was my first year.]



[eyes totally blank] 4?



4, yes, 4.
[hand back up in their faces]
What’s 3 + 3?
[pause, then dramatic flair of the hand followed by a snap]



[eyes still blank, a few children wipe away some drool] 6?



6, yes, 6.


Even the ways we were to praise children were outlined. In our session with the staff developer who presented this curriculum, we were told there was to be NO PERSONALITY. Whoops! Was that out loud? I meant, no deviation from the manual. We were simply literate robots.


And it didn’t stop there. Oh, no. We were also provided with diagrams that detailed the layout of our classroom space. Poster A was to be hung to the left of Poster B. Banner C should be displayed proudly at the front of the room, while chart D was to be hung on the black board. I think perhaps the best (read “most humiliating”) part of this whole experience was when the administration came around with a clipboard to check if our posters were hung in accordance with the guidelines and if we were operating “task on time” (which really means is the seal balancing the ball on it’s nose at exactly 9:34 being the seal in this scenario, of course).


My answer was to run screaming from the building in search of a school that took a teacher’s knowledge and expertise more seriously.

But the question remains: what can you do, with any curriculum, to create that personal connection? Here are some thoughts, and sage words of advice that I have gathered from some phenomenal, non-robotic teachers:


  • Spend time reflecting on what YOU think school is all about. What is your philosophy of education? What do you believe are the qualities embodied by the ideal teacher? Now, hang onto those ideals like a life raft!! Filter all your decisions through those ideals and find ways to make whatever curriculum you teach gel with your beliefs.


  • Remember your personality! No child wants to sit in front of a lifeless being all day, even if said lifeless being is forced to read from a script. Jazz it up and be silly...especially when the door is closed.


  • Think about what you already know. Have you have learned any tricks from other curricula or programs taught in the past? Find ways to make room for those ideas in your current practice. If you like it, there must be a good reason.


  • Find time in the day to teach something you are truly passionate about. I know it feels like there is never any extra time, but finding the time (or forcing the time) to let my students work on scrapbooks throughout the year has made a world of difference in my mental state and that of my students.


  • Advocate for yourself! Although sometimes it feels like no one wants to hear what a teacher has to say, choose your battles and present well thought-out, practical alternatives. This has worked for me, even if it makes me a little unpopular from time to time.  


  • Always remember: Damn the Man, Save the Empire!