So I was in the teacher’s lounge the other day and there’s this table where staff can put things we don’t want in our classrooms any more. There’s usually a heaping pile of random base ten blocks, magazines, raggedy stuffed animals, posters from the eighties, etc. Another staff member wandered in and noticed a box full of cassette tapes. “Ooh, these are cool! Kindergarten read-aloud stories and songs! Wait. Do people have cassette players in their classrooms?”
I shrugged. “I still do. But I mean, I had a record player until I moved to Florida in 2004.”
She looked at me like I said I’d used scraps of slate for a chalkboard.
I struggled to redeem myself through a rambling stream of consciousness. “Well, yeah. When I started teaching in ’99, no classrooms that I knew of had CD players yet, and I LOATHE having to fast forward and rewind through cassettes to get to the song or story I want. Um. Not that they gave us any cassettes. But the record player was like the perfect classroom tool! I used to play the Hap Palmer songs about colors and shapes… man, that guys’ voice was soothing. it was almost miraculous to watch…you could take the most out of control street-wise kid and a 1969 Hap Palmer song would totally captivate him…Um. You know Hap Palmer, right?”
This staff member, several years my senior, stared at me blankly.
And that’s when the thought occurred to me… Is my familiarity with nineteen-seventies classroom technology less of a reflection on my age and more a reflection on how behind the times my school district was?
I had a Strawberry Shortcake record which I begged my mom to play incessantly for me when I was too young to work the machine myself. By the time I was in elementary school, I had a collection of cassettes which I played in an oversized boom box (“Cherish” by Kool and the Gang, and later the same song title by Madonna). CDs soon followed. So theoretically I could have gone my entire life without having learned to use a record player.
Then I entered the world of education and encountered a record player as a student teacher. My wonderful mentor, Mrs. Jacobs, showed me how you could drop the needle on a specific line on the record, and voila! You’ve skipped right to the song you want. I thought it was genius. But now looking back, that whole student teaching experience was a monstrosity of outmoded education. And it was in an entirely different school district, one in rural Maryland about forty-five minutes from my future urban employer along the state’s Washington, D.C. border.
This is only ten years ago, right? Get this…they still had half day kindergarten (2 hours and fifteen minutes). 20 minutes of that was dedicated to snack time, and another 30 to recess. Centers were strictly non-academic, like blocks and housekeeping. No small group reading instruction. Ever. No textbooks. For any subject. That includes teaching manuals. And we only taught math three. times. A WEEK.
Ouch. Have things changed THAT much in ten years? Was I the only one teaching like that in the frickin’ NINETIES?
Were other teachers cueing up the, um, record player, in 1999? Or did a two-minute song about numbers count as a math lesson only in the most pathetically underfunded schools?
And perhaps more importantly, could the past ten years’ steep national increase in curricular and student expectations actually be a GOOD thing?
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