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Fighting 1960s Mental Models of the Perfect Classroom -- and the Perfect Mom


Voice of Experience

Each week, an educator shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education Worlds Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on her mental models of the 1960's classroom and 1960's mom. Those models still haunt her from time to time, even though she knows they wont prepare her students -- or her own kids -- for the world they will face.

Is your mental model of a classroom stuck in the 1960s?
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That old familiar feeling surfaces each time I tackle an activity-based project with my students ... Although I am committed to implementing hands-on learning, I have a secret fear that a visitor will wander in during a moment of constructive chaos. My apprehension seems connected to a nagging feeling that a quiet, orderly classroom is the trademark of a good teacher. That feeling is probably related to my own learning memories of students working at desks in orderly rows, peace and quiet, and a teacher, of course, in complete control -- seeing everything, knowing everything. That image, circa 1965, is deeply ingrained as my idea of a perfect on-track classroom.

I struggle with some of those same feelings when I picture myself as a mom. In my minds eye I envision having warm cookies for my children after school, laundry that is under control, a clean and orderly house, and time to knit or sew for my family. I imagine being relaxed enough to listen to my children's stories.

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Those mental models of teaching and motherhood plague me; they describe the mom I grew up with and the home I grew up in.

Having one foot in each generation is a slippery place to be!

Ive often wondered if it is possible to reconcile our past mental models with the current reality of our profession and our private roles as women. Whenever my thoughts take that path, I try to get back on track.

First of all, I must remember that recreating the classroom of the 1960s will not prepare my students for the world I will launch them into. Even if I would feel more comfortable there, I remind myself that I am developing a learning culture that promotes questioning, exploration, and collaboration. Why? Because my students will not just need to "know," they will need to be able to apply what they know. They will not just need to read about solutions, they will need to come up with solutions. And they will need to be equipped with the ability to work with others as they do it.

Teaching students how to function in a collaborative environment won't happen in rows of desks in a silent, non-interactive classroom. Questioning and problem solving won't happen without dialogue, and dialogue doesn't happen in a silent, teacher-controlled classroom. In todays classrooms, teachers are not only knowledge imparters; they are co-learners with the kids.

The classroom experiences my students need don't happen in isolation. They happen in a vibrant, moving, dynamic environment -- an environment that is sometimes noisy, messy, and slightly chaotic. At times, I even feel a little unsure of what might happen next. In spite of its dynamic nature, however, that environment is not disorganized, out of control, or void of respect.

I need to remember the same things when I consider my parenting benchmarks. No, there are not always cookies fresh out of the oven or clean socks (as important as that is). My children, however, have become co-participants in the home, just as my students have in the classroom. I'm not the only one who can clean a toilet or put dinner on the table. Out of this arrangement will come kids with skill sets for life -- unlike me, who didn't know how to clean a bathroom when I got married.

Emphasis on communication and relationships will sometimes pre-empt knitting and sewing at home and perfect 1960's orderliness in the classroom, but I know it is "talk-time" that will shape our children into what they need to become.


Brenda Dyck teaches at Masters Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Associations Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.