College: I was graded on my creation of interdisciplinary units. I remember building a unit on China for elementary learners. It was awesome. Cooking in math, Chinese money to simulate classroom economy, deep thinking about how the culture compared to our culture, exploration of history. Architecture to explore science force and motions of structures. All while learning reading, writing, math, science, and social studies standards. Great learning experiences for kids. I never got to teach that unit.
Here’s what unfolded in my career instead…
Teaching Job: Total excitement and joy, China unit ready to go when the time was right! But I was handed a pacing guide to follow, that in NO way could be taught using Interdisciplinary teaching. Everything was segmented and separate. China was NOT in the curriculum, everyone said. Unit gathers dust. Bummer. I was excited about that unit. Tried to get excited about lessons I could get a little creative with that would still fit the “PACING GUIDE.”
First Few Years: Testing was the focus. If it’s on the test teach it, hard. Tell it, retell it, lecture it. Science and social studies? Rotate them for 30 minutes a day… or week, if there’s time. Creativity officially squashed. The schedule ran the learning.
Next Few Years: Discovered Project Based Learning and Inquiry Based Learning. Saw the magic of having kids of all abilities, special education, gifted education, twice exceptional, ALL kids in integrated project situations. I felt my creativity coming alive… until…. Pressure from colleagues to “Follow the Book,” Nobody embraces different. Except the kids did. Collaboration took hold, they were working together, learning from each other, and creativity was coming alive. But that pressure ensued… return to the pacing guide, follow the book. We had to spend more time developing assessments and rewriting standards… over and over again. I couldn’t survive it.
Next Few Years: Left the regular classroom, tired of the pacing guide madness and not being able to teach science and social studies because it “wasn’t tested.” Moved to Gifted Ed pull out program, fell in love with learning all over again because I had the freedom to TEACH, LEARN, and GROW. Returned to my roots… interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Worked to incorporate STEM, and Project Based Learning, and Inquiry… all the things that make learning come alive. Open ended experiences that let kids DRIVE. My creativity was back. It was glorious. It saved me as a teacher, and a person. But I was the only gifted ed teacher in my building… and that? It’s lonely. Isolating. A silo. People said things like, “Well, your kids are just playing, not really learning.” Thank goodness for Twitter – it saved me those years. It’s ultimately what took me someplace else.
Most Recent Couple of Years: Now? Innovation Coordinator. Coordinates innovation. There IS no pacing guide. Discovered making and creating, fell in love with Design Thinking, and play… more play. STEAM is part of the everyday world. Design Thinking brings empathy in and allows kids to think about others while they create, solve, and explore the world and their connections to it. A team? I have one. We share ideas, inspire each other, and cook up plans together. They are so fantastic it’s a whole ‘nother blog post for another day. But, they have made all the difference in my world.
Crazy journey, right? Almost 14 years of fighting for creativity and learning, just so that I could provide it to my learners. I’m sure it’s quite similar to others’ journeys through education and I’m thankful for every. single. step. It’s made me know that I am home. I will spend the rest of my education career helping others get to the magical place I’ve seen when learning isn’t about a THING or an ACRONYM, where learning is about authentic experiences, removing ceilings, and engaging with the world. While the world argues about whether or not gifted ed is fair, starts movements like #CS4All, and marvels at the obvious idea that art belongs in STEM, I’m just going to focus on my own mission….. Let’s MAKE school more, pun totally intended. Making, dreaming, doing, designing, and becoming a better version of ourselves. Teachers and students. ALL of them, ALL of us. Learners.
We don’t need detailed pacing guides. We don’t need more silos. We don’t need debates about acronyms. We need the chance to teach creatively, collaborate authentically, and fall in love with learning again.