I have sat in a classroom, at a desk, in front of a teacher, five days a week, for an average of 36 weeks for thirteen years (and counting). The off-white cinder blocks and squeaking of metal chair legs across dotted tile were like a second home. A second home that was simultaneously a laboratory, a stage, a studio, and a boot camp. There were some moments of darkness, but there were also some of light.
Those moments of light came from The Classroom Inventors.
I remember my fifth-grade classroom like it was yesterday: art lined the wall, some famous works, others the work of my own teacher. Geodes, seashells, and thought-provoking knick-knacks had been scattered around the room. Posters had been hand-made always with a bold, Arial Black font. And I remember my teacher: self-proclaimed "teacher by day, artist by night." Square-ish glasses with thick black frames, plaid shirts, interesting ties, sometimes spiky hair, and the ability to mimic almost every accent you could think of (the angry Irish man was my favorite). He made learning interesting, tying in the importance of art and music with science and drama with history and social studies, all while teaching us subtle life lessons and caring about each and every one of us. He was, in my experience, the original Classroom Inventor.
As the years went on, however, it was a bit different.
School became a bland second nature. Tiresome. Less interesting. Show up, do well, get judged, repeat. It grew to be more about getting judged. More about having to do well. More about switching on auto-pilot and "just getting through" the day. Motivation became a downward trend line. It's funny how you can become so mentally and emotionally detached from a hefty chunk of your everyday life.
My junior year, I was presented with the biggest ball of stress I'd ever faced: an Advanced Placement language and composition class. ...But my RAS (I call this robotic apathy syndrome) had almost completely taken over my formerly eager-to-learn mindset. I had become almost completely conditioned to spit out what instructors wanted to get the grade and move on.
...Until I fell hard on my butt the first week of my junior year in that language class. My brain threw a flag on the play. All the mundane came to a halt as I was captivated by the dedication of my AP Lang Classroom Inventor. She made me work harder than ever and take responsibility for my own learning to do well. And it was like the will to learn that lay dormant for so long had suddenly awakened. Awakened by the feeling of wanting to do well, by the subject matter (rhetorical writing, and the many ways it's used to convey meaning and opinion), and ultimately, by a teacher who wanted to hone in on all of our individual strengths and weaknesses to make us better writers.
Almost instantaneously my RAS was beaten into a time-out corner in my brain until further notice. My AP Lang Classroom Inventor shared with us passionately the power of rhetoric, its application in real-world events, and dared to dive into the structure of the modern school system, which opened my eyes to a lot of outdated and ultimately inappropriate education methods. She connected everything we learned with real life applications, and always made herself available to help us if we were struggling.
I ended the year with the realization that, even though I had gotten a mediocre grade in the class, it had been the most meaningful and important class I had ever taken. And that feeling of accomplishment, of renewed self-confidence, and gratitude towards an invaluable learning experience was addictive.
It got me thinking... "everyone should be able to have this moment". That thought is what has set me on the path of wanting to become not just a classroom teacher, but a Classroom Inventor. Someone like my fifth and eleventh grade teachers. Someone who takes every second of the time spent with students and turns it into something meaningful, interesting, and valuable. Someone who realizes that the smaller versions of ourselves sitting at the group of neatly organized desks are the future and if we don't provide them with our absolute best, we will ultimately be failing ourselves.
Now, because I have a greater freedom over my course selection, I can choose subjects that interest me and professors with teaching styles I can cope with. But younger people do not have this freedom. Often they learn the fundamentals of math, science, writing, and history with a single teacher, and if that one teacher doesn't click with them, or has a bad relationship experience, it can stay with the student long after they've graduated to higher levels. Fortunately, the same goes for positive relationships. I'm lucky to say I've had mostly nothing but good experiences with teachers and some awesome run-ins with three to four in my experience, that will bring out the best in them and their abilities.
If you think about it, teachers are like a second set of parents (especially at the younger stages of learning). A teacher (good or bad), inevitably bends, molds, and polishes morals, curiosity, and personality. A Classroom Inventor takes advantage of this impressionable period in children's lives and makes it flourish with not only content, but exposure to new ways of thinking, empathy, arts, creativity, and emotion.
This effect teachers have on students is extremely powerful, and, if used effectively and correctly, could result in a newer generation of students. Based on my experience, what is taught is not as important as how it is taught. Catering one's teaching to more than just the standard content and tests could change the game of education entirely. Just think— we could create generations that pounce on problem-solving, make connections across all areas of knowledge, push the envelope, think outside the box, challenge the social norm, and actively seek and sharpen their gifts and talents.
A recent video I found on my Facebook feed confirmed my aspirations. I don't want to teach in the classroom, I want to invent. I want to explore alongside my students their abilities, their strengths, and their weaknesses. I want to shatter traditional schooling practices, find and invent new ways to battle RAS, and work every day to capture and engage the will to learn that exists in all shapes and sizes in developing minds.
The fact that children are the future is inevitable. That being said, we shouldn't be using the classroom to craft robots susceptible to apathy in cookie-cutter learning environments. We should be freeing the gifts and potentials of all students, and helping them thrive with not negative reinforcement, but positive and constructive methods that encourage, inspire, and create a newfound thirst for learning new things. We should strive not to teach, but to invent, with students as top-priority beneficiaries.