When I taught in the Republic of Georgia, the classrooms had unfinished wooden floors, blackboards that were coming off their backings, and wood-burning stoves, which required replenishing by students (even first graders) every so often. Teachers brought their own chalk, because it was not in the school budget, and most dressed in black. The teachers that were regarded the highest were those with a strong sense of discipline. They were intimidating, and unashamed to slam books on the table to achieve silence. I witnessed more than one box an ear over the course of the year. When those teachers were present, their students sat, ramrod-straight, in their seats, and shouted, Diax, mastsavlebelo – Yes, teacher – in unison. That was the only thing a student might say over the course of an hour lesson, and such precision, carried from the Soviet era, was touted as the gold standard.
Enter Marisa, American language teacher without a speck of black clothing, a creative, musical type, with Montessori experience and training in the communicative competence school of thought. To call me a walking incongruity would be an understatement. I certainly didn’t fit the image of a successful Georgian teacher, and much as I enjoyed my students, I anticipated the day I would again feel at home in a classroom.
Much to my surprise, however, not all US classrooms have the welcoming, student-centered environment that I had recalled nostalgically.
- Some have disorganized learning zones, whether for lack of space, time, or storage.
- Some are Spartan.
- Others (though few, thankfully) are proverbially filled with well-intended teacher talk, leaving little room for students to express understanding.
- Still others have a weak sense of community, where students are polite but distant.
Does your classroom fall into any of these categories? Check the pulse on your learning environment. Now that the school year is underway, do you see any areas of improvement? Thankfully, there are resources to make it easy. Veronica Lopez delineates the seven learning zones every classroom should have. If your classroom needs more flair (or more student presence) we’ve come up with 14 ways to improve your classroom’s personality. If you need help dialing back the teacher talk, we can help. And here are 10 great activities to build community (We like #4 and #9 best!).
Even though US classrooms don’t tend to resemble military barracks these days, we all need a little inspiration, and no one more than our students. How do you use your learning environment to inspire?