This Morning

This morning, I’m embarrassed: apparently my groundbreaking new idea for a school is — a Montessori school. And here I thought I was so clever. I guess it’s true that there are no new ideas, that everything’s already been thought of, and all we can do is change the wording or add a digital clock to it. (That’s an old joke now, of course. Who even has clocks any more?)

Well, this morning, I’m going to say the same thing I said when I realized that my first novel was strongly based on other books I’d read: So what? So what if the idea isn’t mine: I make it mine by spending my time and thought on it. I shape it, convert it, change it, even if it’s only a little bit — whoever first put digital clocks into stoves and coffeepots is responsible for making me aware of the time more than any damn clockmaker — and then it is no longer the story it was, it is the story I made it. Shakespeare didn’t come up with his stories, either — but he told them better than anyone else ever has, before or since.

(In case you’re wondering, my first novel was intentionally based on Harry Potter — 11-year-old boy with a sad home life finds out he’s one of a group of magical people — but about a third of the way into writing it, I also realized that it was a multi-layered narrative about a lonely kid, with a father but no mother, who reads books and tells stories and has vivid dreams of himself being a hero in a magical land called Illusia. Ever read The Neverending Story? Yeah, me too.)

So let’s get back to the matter at hand: my Montessori-rip-off dream school. In Sunday’s post I described how the school would work: students take individual units from subject-matter teachers, advancing to the next unit only when they master this unit, but able to schedule their units in any order and at any pace they like; and they graduate when they complete a set number of units. There will be more to graduation, because school is not (or should not be) solely about classwork, but today let’s focus on the most important part of this school of mine: the teachers.

That’s right: the teachers are the most important part of school. They’re not the only necessary part, because without students, a teacher is just a crazy person talking to desks and walls and making PowerPoint presentations in the darkest hours of the morning; but teachers are more important than students because one of us can provide for dozens and scores of them, and because one student is more easily replaceable than one  teacher. And if you are a student  and your feelings are hurt by that, deal with it; I said you were necessary. In an abstract sense, you are the heart of the school, because without you there is no reason to have a school; but the teachers are the bones of the school, because without them the whole thing falls apart into a puddle of inert goo. With a big beating heart in the middle of it, flopping around like a dying fish. Hope you like that image, students. (We need each other. I hope we all know it.)(I also hope that anyone my age clicks on that link and knows instantly why I picked it.)

So teachers: here’s the most important thing. At my school you will work only four days a week. There’ll be a full salary for those four days, and no required duties beyond them — though I will ask the teachers if they are willing to work more in exchange for more money, any extra duties will be entirely voluntary, and entirely compensated. I don’t know anything about school budgets, and where all the money goes; but I do know that every penny I could scrape together beyond the necessities like utility bills and rent and upkeep and insurance, every penny goes to the teachers. We’ll fund-raise for new books; teachers already do that, anyway. But the salary will be as high as I can possibly make it, partly because you deserve it, and partly because I need good teachers to handle this gig, because they’ll need to deal with a mixed-age class that changes every two weeks or so, and that sounds pretty nightmarish. (I also have a plan to make that easier, I hope.)

I’m a bit torn on salary increases: because I kind of want all teachers to be paid the same. There would be cost of living increases, of course, and like I said, there would be extra duties available; but I’m not sure that paying teachers more for experience is the best way to go. New teachers have a much harder time, so I would want them to be compensated well, and I know that paying experienced teachers more tends to push for more teacher turnover, which I don’t want. At the same time, I know that experienced teachers tend to be better teachers, and I would  want to reward that and retain them. I’m open to suggestions. For now, I think there’s one high, flat rate for all teachers.

I expect the teachers to teach within a single subject area. I think that’s better, because  we all have preferences and areas of expertise, and that’s what I want the students to have access to. The younger grades may get confused by multiple teachers, and they may miss the chance to bond with a single loving adult; but I want them focused on learning, not on how much they love Miss Johnson from first grade. Ever notice that? When my students talk about upper  grade teachers they’ve had, it almost always focuses on the subject, did that person teach them, did they learn anything; but elementary teachers, it always seems to be, “Oh, I loved Mr. Braunschweiger!” “Mrs. Colgate? I couldn’t stand her!” It’s the person, not the subject. I don’t like that. Now, I don’t expect first graders to plan their units and select their new schedules; I’ve got no problem with the units for the younger grades being directly prescribed by the teachers. But I want them to get used to seeing individual teachers as the experts of specific fields.

Within those fields, I would want the teachers to design their own units; some administrator (And all of my administrators will be former teachers, in genuine content areas, with several years of experience, preferably at different levels) will make sure all the standards are being touched upon, but I want the teachers to design the curriculum.

The curriculum will include English, social studies and humanities, science, math, languages, art, and Career and Technical Education. That’s right: no PE. I plan for there to be physical activity, but I see no need whatsoever for an ex-jock to yell at kids who don’t like playing baseball. THAT’S RIGHT, GYM TEACHERS, I’M LOOKING AT YOU. AND SAYING “NO.”

There will be no inservice. There will be no required professional development: I want teachers who love their subjects, and will learn more about the subject because they want to. I want teachers who will get better over time because they believe in the value of education and want to do it well; I don’t think that I need to stand over them and watch them do what I tell them to do, and then check a box. There will be observations in the classroom, but they will be frequent and always informal; basically just me coming to watch people teach well. If I see someone doing something I think is poor teaching, I’ll either talk to the teacher about it, or I will ask the department to look into it, and they can decide if the teacher needs help fixing a problem. Otherwise there will be no formal evaluations, no rating system, and good Lord, no merit pay.

I think that’s everything; the extra duties, and the bell schedule, and my PE replacement, and all the specifics about classes and graduation requirements, will all come in future posts.

How am I doing so far? Any teachers want to come work in my school?