Every week, I have Tuesday afternoon and evening off duty from dormitory duty, and I escape from the work of running a dorm. Usually I spend the day away from campus. Some days I spend working on school-related tasks like grading. And some days, I do errands off-campus.
Today was none of those things. I went to visit my mentor, who just recently broke his first bone, and talked with him about consequentials of various sorts — reading, audiobooks, the Kindle, and similar tasks. Then I went to the grocery store for ingredients.
And then I came home to cook.
It turns out that my life runs a lot better, and I feel healthier, when I eat out of my own kitchen and my own fridge than when I eat all my meals in the school dining hall. For one, I don’t eat nearly so much meat. For another, I get to practice cooking — which longtime readers know that I love. For a third, I eat all organic and muchly local (except in the winter, when local produce is usually frozen [along with the farmer] in the ground).
So tonight, I made granola from Mark Bittman’s recipe in Food Matters, and my lentils, and Bittman’s barley recipe. I also made a mandoline salad, which is very thinly sliced cucumbers and some red onion in a mixture of rice-wine vinegar, tamari, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and minced not-very-hot-’cause-I’m-a-wimp chilis.
The nice thing is, I now have food for the week in one form or another. The barley or the granola can be breakfast. The mandoline salad is a quick pick-me-up after fencing practice in the afternoons, and with a quick-cooked one or two-egg cheese omelet makes a perfect evening dinner.
What does this have to do with teaching?
I’ve thought, though perhaps never said here, that the success of our students depends largely on creating a positive learning environment, in which learning is both natural and fun. That is, our job as teachers is to create a space-time in which our students are exposed to the right ideas and absorb them.
In France, the whey from cheesemaking is poured directly onto the floor of the cheese house. It creates an environment in and around the cheese house suited perfectly to the growth of the bacteria that produce the desired cheese. Milk brought into the cheese house is almost instantly ‘attacked’ and the transformation from milk to creamy goodness begins even before the deliberate, human process begins.
My kitchen is now set up for the success of my food plans for 2010. The bad snack food is gone, and there’s a ton of healthy, delicious food options in their place. I made these foods, I enjoyed making them, and I enjoy eating them. The fridge and cupboards are now set up to attack my bad food habits and transform them to good ones.
How can I set up my classroom so that it’s equally designed to ‘attack’ every student’s bad habits and transform them to good ones?
The walls of my classroom have a number of those corporate motivational posters. I think they’re silly, myself. My colleagues love them, and I probably can’t get away with taking them down. In return, though, I’ve set up two (and eventually there will be four) mobiles filled with photos of classical Greek art. My students will come into the room now, and see the art that they’re supposed to be studying.
I’ve brought the books that reference those pictures into the class, and filled the class bookshelf with the relevant books. The text resources to support the visual references are in place. I’ve hung the maps about ancient Greece. The half-hour glass broke, and I don’t have any busts of the Greek philosophers mounted on corbels around the room. But I could.
The good food I’ve just made and put in my fridge is beautiful. It won’t last more than a week, and then I’ll have to do it again. Yet I think we have to rethink the utilitarian nature of our classrooms, and consider adorning them with beautiful things relevant to our discipline. Motivational posters are all very well, but all they can do is transmit the concepts of self-esteem and a vague longing for appropriate virtues. True learning, though, is conveyed through a rich range of symbols — visible in statuary, pictures, colors, and signs — and there’s a decided lack of those things in our classrooms today.