There is a photo of my last classroom posted on this blog. It had a green chalk board, turquoise linoleum, tablecloths on the desks, and much more. Along the chalk board at the top are photos of my students and some of their children. Also on the walls are finished projects/posters from the students. A combination of smells, sights, colors, and tastes made this room special. It also had six computers, three video players, several tape players, and a CD player. Hanging above my desk was a large TV that was used for special events that were broadcast. I would have liked round tables and sofas in the room, but they weren’t available. This is the home of non-traditional teaching/learning.
As a classroom teacher for over 38 years, I want to share some of the highlights of my experiences with my readers. I loved teaching and would not have changed a thing, but that is because I never was a stand-up lecturer. I did plenty of teaching, but it wasn’t in front of a blackboard (green, in my class).
My students were from different high schools. They came to me because they had had a difficult time in traditional school.s. They had learning problems or behavior problems. Some were pregnant and couldn’t stay in regular classes. Some came from out of state and had to make up credits in order to get a high school diploma. Some were there because the courts were giving them one last chance at making a change for the better. I taught drug-dealers, prostitutes, doctors’ children, other teachers’ children, and once in awhile a Satan worshiper or a vampire. Yes, one student thought he was a real vampire.
I am just your average teacher. I made average grades in high school and college. But what I had that made the difference was several learning disabilities and Christian love toward my students. I didn’t find out about my disabilities until I had taught most of my life. I was in a class for teachers about how to teach according to the learning style of the student. I took a simple test and found out that I had a HEARING disability and a READING disability. How could i go through college and graduate school with these two glaring disabilities? That was my question to the professor who taught the class. She asked me about my teaching style and my classes. Her answer was simple. “You found a way to learn by teaching yourself and by-passing the disabilities.”
She was right. I knew all along that I struggled much more than my peers with learning, with reading, and with listening to lectures. My saving grace was the ability to overcome. I learned to read with a pen. I took copious notes. I circled key words: I highlighted sentences. I reread everything I had to read. No one knew of my disabilities. How I got through grade school is a mystery to me.
This is where we begin… teacher with disabilities teaching students with disabilities. Some combination! I knew what I did was not the usual but it worked. I taught students who had troubles and helped them overcome the pitfalls that I had experienced. If they couldn’t understand what they read to themselves, I would have them read aloud and then listen to it. I would show them how to read a paragraph at a time, ask themselves a few questions, and then answer those questions before going forward. This was doable because there was no time limit on how long they took to learn. Amazing concept! In regular classes, we teach to the middle range of students: the good ones get bored and the slow ones are left behind. Next week we move on to another subject. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Well, it isn’t.
In non-traditional classes, students have the time they need to learn. This also helps those who are very capable. They can go on ahead and finish faster. The one principle that I insisted upon was completion of tasks and testing out of the subject. Students could not by-pass the work; they couldn’t take a “F” and go to another level. Of course, this is hard to track, so I had to have very detailed lesson plans for each subject, post tests for each level, and materials that met all the different styles of learning: audio, visual, reading, and tactile. When they came to class I would test them for their learning style, explain the methods used in the classroom, give them the rules of behavior and progression, and have them color in a sheet that gave me lots of information about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc.
My classroom was non-traditional in other ways: coffee in the morning, cereal available, water allowed in bottles at all times, music playing softly in the background, and a teacher that was available when needed. In one classroom I might have 30 students, but they were taking different courses. I taught English 9, 10, 11, and 12; also creative writing, mythology, the American short story, drawing I and II, and sometimes “journalism.” We produced a literary magazine each year with students contributing writings, paintings, poetry, and drawings. These subjects each had a syllabus, at least 8 tests, a final, and a project.
Each year I would have at least 300 students. Many would complete and graduate. Some left and came back later to finish. Some gave up, but not many. Most would go on to college. I have taught future doctors, lawyers, English teachers, artists, and mothers and fathers. I loved every minute of it. Most of my years of teaching were focused on non-traditional concepts. I truly believe we could change the world if we would change our educational system.
In future blogs, I will talk about some of my most bizarre experiences as well as some of the most fulfilling.