When I started my teaching career, I was fresh out of college but I was not the average 22 year old graduate. I was married and had not gone to college until my children went to school. So I was older. My first year, I taught fourth grade for 10 days. Then I was transferred to a fifth grade position. Any Georgia teacher can tell you about the ten day transfers. I had not worked very much in elementary school but I really liked working there. During the spring of my first year, the principal who had originally hired me asked me to move to middle school and I did. I really loved middle schoolers. I found that teachers either really loved them or hated them. There was no middle ground.
Anyway-the position the principal offered me was not a typical language arts classroom. It was as a teacher in a Humanities block. The Humanities Block was a fairly “new” idea. The community was nervous , fearing their children would be exposed to some radical new-fangled ideas. I just saw it as a chance to teach language arts. The block teachers would be planning together and providing more intensive studies. I suppose I also looked like a “safe” teacher-not some crazy radical hippie! We also had a social studies teacher. She was a mother and her husband was a pastor in the area and counselor. Our lead teacher was the wife of a college professor and had 4 children. I have to say that M was very interesting. She was the most different person I had ever met. She raised chickens in the backyard of her house long before anyone else did. She recycled everything. She cared nothing about fashions or make-up or what people thought of her. She had a wood stove in her kitchen and she would not let you waste a single drop of water. Ever. She was a FREE spirit.
School started and things were going well when M thought it would be a good idea for kids to learn more about pioneer life. One thing led to another and we decided to build a log cabin. Not outside in a field. We decided to build it inside the school. We happened to share a very large, windowless central room in our pod of the school. We decided to move out our furniture and build it there. M knew someone who would give us the outside slice of pine logs for free. So we had materials. The children read about cabin building and drew plans for the cabin. Then we built it. By “we” I mean the 8th grade students in our Humanities block. We only had the morning so it took several weeks to build it. M would not let the children use electric saws so they cut the wood and built the walls only using hand saws. When finished, the cabin seemed huge! It took up most of one side of the pod. Then they made furnishings that were used during that period of time. I must say that the kids loved this activity. They researched history, drew plans, did physical labor, and even dressed like settlers. I am really glad the fire marshal never came to the school. We would have been in big trouble for having a cabin inside a double classroom in the school.
At Christmas time, we talked to the children about taking down the cabin. They voted no. They wanted it to stay up so it did. We meet inside the cabin for class. Students worked in small groups in the cabin. It was an academic success!
What did I learn from this? I learned that stepping outside the box was sometimes a very good thing. I also learned that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask permission. M taught me about being a free spirit and about nurturing the mind of a child. I must say that these ideas served me well during the rest of my teaching career!