First of all, [insert cliche here about inserting a cliche about how time has flown by and we’re almost done at Unquowa.]
To say that the last month has been a whirlwind would be a gross underestimation of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that myself, the other fellows, and the country at large have endured recently. It’s been a busy time. Let’s begin with rivers.
At the beginning of this month, I taught a lesson designed to move the 6th grade Humanities class on from their studies of prehistoric Hunter/Gatherer people, on towards early civilizations. The idea was that we’d take our basic understanding of when and why people began farming, discuss why large rivers were so crucial to so many of them, and then spend time in the Makerspace making a large, functional river model of our own.
Well, the lesson was cool, but that’s a whole class in and of itself I’d like to teach. The way things changed when people started practicing agriculture, the social institutions and practices that came about as a result, the way the health of people and the planet has shifted so drastically since then, the recent conception of such seemingly normal things as war and private property – it was stressful, to say the least, to try and contain all of what I wanted to say in just 45 minutes.
The project that resulted in the Makerspace is a whole other story. I got a small taste of what Makerspace instructors have to deal with in trying to balance student autonomy with sticking to plans, instructional oversight, and recognition of time limits. It was terrifying. But I came out of it with fresh knowledge about the importance of planning, of letting go, and about being on the same page. And the 6th grade came out of it with a pretty awesome, functional river model, which may or may not be fully completed.
Then, of course, there’s the main course of this month; the thing you probably thought I was going to talk about right away.
It’s hard to fully explain and remember the sequences of numbness, demotivation, motivation, anger, futility, and personal shame that I’ve felt in the last 3 weeks. But, as the title of this post may suggest, I feel like I’m settling down, and looking ahead. Save for those that explicitly value being uneducated, whom I can’t speak on in regards to this, it should be obvious to all that this is one of the most important times to be an educator.
It is much harder and scarier, I’ve found, to learn about the reasons why people with vastly different opinions from yourself have those opinions, than to simply hate, fear, or cast them off. Doing so shows one the mountain of opposition that they’re up against in trying to bring others closer towards what they believe to be right and true, whereas hating or ignoring is easier, but doesn’t bring change. The events of this month have started in myself a process of trying to figure out how to truly, effectively educate, change minds, and encourage self-evaluation. I’ve begun thinking of what it is that I might like to continue to study that would allow me to better understand the psychology of things such as bias, cognitive dissonance, in-group and out-group thinking, and the effect of parents and communities on individuals’ beliefs – and then how I can spread this information. I’m realizing that my earlier statement must be amended; this may be an unprecedentedly important time to be an educator, but it an age of explicit, proud ignorance and disavowal of factual information, it is likely also one of the hardest times to be an educator.
I’m glad to say I can end this post with recent, positive, and directly PEL-related news. Yesterday, the four of us completed our big project of this quad, which was hosted at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT. Our assignment was to each pick one of the four exhibitions currently hosted at the museum, and teach a 30 minute lesson somehow informed by, related to, or even just marginally reminiscent of some aspect of the work we chose.
The 7th and 8th graders spent all day at the museum yesterday, divided into four groups, rotating every 30 minutes between our four lessons. This meant that we all taught our lesson 4 times, with a break of no more than a few minutes in between each.
It was incredibly exhausting.
My lesson, which related some of the structures in the exhibit to bones and muscles, and then went on to teach about what makes us move, went really well. It was amazing to teach the same thing four times in a row, and to experience not only my own changing attitudes and competencies throughout it, but also the different experiences that each group of 10-12 students brought with them.
We were all really happy with how the day went, and are relieved that it’s over. Best of all, the school hired a professional videographer to come and film each of our lessons. The end result will be a 7 or 8 minute video of each of us, including shots of us teaching, students studenting, and clips from our pre- and post-interviews. This type of video will be invaluable, no doubt, in the future of our job searches – as well as our own evaluation of ourselves.
We have just 2 and a half more weeks at Unquowa, which will be filled with Winterfest preparations, some half days, and a PEL trip to visit Calhoun. Being at Unquowa has encouraged me to continue to define what progressive education does and doesn’t mean. It has allowed me to have great relationships with teachers of much different backgrounds, experience levels, and disciplines than those I spent most of my time with at CSW. Finally, it has given me the opportunity to spend time with middle schoolers and preschoolers, reminding me to keep an open mind towards the future in regards to the type of school I’d like to work at.
Now, I’m looking ahead; towards a welcome 2 week break, and then (what is now a giant question mark) the Calhoun experience.
Thanks for reading!