This Side Of Paradise

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I had my first interview for a teaching position about a year ago. The principal, knowing I was a recent graduate, asked a peculiar question: “If you could design an ideal classroom in an ideal school, what would be your design?”

I immediately launched into an elaborate reply, relating, first of all, that my ideal school would be fully funded. I then proceeded to explain how the inquiry-based learning atmosphere would compliment my multicultural, whole-language, cooperative-learning approach to teaching. I further explained that “inclusion” would be part of the school's philosophy; therefore, the students in my self-contained classroom would represent a wide range of ability levels and ethnic groups.

Since he had used the word “ideal” and my definition of that word resembled “perfection,” I described the details of my perfect (and quite unrealistic) classroom. I told him how my room would be large, with great glass windows, plenty of closet space, bathrooms for boys and girls, and at least one sink.

There would be four doors, one on each side of the room. Through one door, students would find a warm, sandy beach. On that beach, they would be able to explore salt-water life, tides, and sea birds. Through another door, students would find beautiful pastures, farm animals and machinery, apple and peach orchards, and corn and wheat fields. Through the third door, they would find majestic mountains and deep, splendid valleys. There, they could examine a multitude of rocks and trees. The final door would lead to downtown Manhattan. Here, children could experience crowds, taxis, traffic, noise, Park Avenue, and FAO Schwartz.

I didn't get the job. I suppose my “ideal” school and classroom (probably especially the classroom part) were a bit too ideal. Within a few weeks, however, I landed a job teaching social studies to 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at a rural school in Virginia.

It is surprising to me, as I think about it, how dramatically different my response to that principal's question would be now after only one year of teaching. Today, my answer would sound more like this:

In my ideal school, teachers would be able to distribute pencils, paper, and crayons to students. Students would not have to buy their own textbooks. Teachers would not be given an allotment of Xerox paper in September to last for the entire school year. Xerox machines would not have monthly copy quotas. Windows would not have huge, gaping holes causing children to shiver during the winter months. Floors would be mopped weekly and waxed regularly. Students would not read from textbooks that are 7 or more years old or sit at desks older than their parents. Classrooms would have a globe and a world map published sometime after 1959.

Our “education president” and our “education governors” have mapped out a number of education goals for the nation to meet by the year 2000. One of them is to ensure that all of our children come to school prepared to learn. It is a lofty goal but a bit off the mark. After all, wouldn't we be doing many of these “prepared” children a disservice if we ended up teaching them under the conditions my Virginia students must endure?

I would like to challenge every person who claims to stand firmly under the banner of “equal opportunity for quality education” to think of more appropriate and tangible education goals for the year 2000. Let's stop claiming that money doesn't make a difference. Let's stop pretending that the “best and the brightest” will enter teaching, and stay with it, even if things don't dramatically change in the nation's schools. Let's replace ethereal education goals with meaningful ones, and let's start now.

Vol. 04, Issue 01, Page 39

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