I have a tank in my class. No, two tanks actually. Fish tanks, metre and a bit long each. I found them sitting lonely and empty as I started my work at my new school.
Took the tanks into my class. Asked a few boys who, I have been warned and confirmed, can ‘be a handful’ to fill both one third with sand. Done, with gusto. ‘My weakest’ (ah, the labels…) student shows me the best way to empty the crate of sand into the tank without spilling sand. Brilliant, smart, effective.
I produce a bag of toy soldiers, four mini armies in different colours. The glass tanks come alive. Forts, dugouts, trenches are built. Number of boys in different classes just ‘want to play a bit’ with the soldiers. ‘Work and play” take-turn system is born on the go. No walkouts, dramas or inappropriate behaviour when playing with the soldiers. Sharing is turned on.
Strategy to avoid ‘doing work’ ie writing most of these boys aren’t good at? Possibly. Enjoyment from being able to play with toys as something the kid may not have had much in the past? Likely, even more.
“Play with the soldiers, go for it, 20 minutes. Set a battle scene and then describe it. Tell, write down who is fighting who. What is the commander of the red guys saying to his troops? Take a photo and describe the view of the machine-gunner at the back. What about the guy with the grenade launcher? What do you think he wrote to his family last night, before the battle? Think you can do something like that?”
You can’t ‘box’ teaching. It’s too beautiful, too frustrating, too dynamic and complex to do so. Why I teach. Or as one of my favourite authors Arundhati Roy would say
“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”
Teachers, or not, we all have our ‘fish tanks’. What is yours?