Tomorrow is Halloween and the natives (students) are getting restless. I know this because I spent many a Halloween doing my best to keep my young charges busy as they squirmed like they had ants in their pants. And they were teenagers!
Before standardized testing and its ensuing universal lesson plans where all the teachers of the same tested subject in a school district have to teach exactly the same thing on the same day, and before we became so sensitive and politically correct (Is that a run-on sentence?), I tried to add a little bit of spooky fun to my classroom at Halloween. I definitely put up Halloween decorations–remember those cute little cardboard cutouts of jack o’ lanterns and witches and goblins? It never even crossed my mind that someone might object. It was all harmless fun when I was growing up.
I also brought in trick-or-treat candy if I could afford it, and when I taught English I would find a good scary classic film like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or “Frankenstein” or “The Pit and the Pendulum” that we could actually do literary analysis on. I lit a jack o’ lantern while the movie was showing. It was a nice change from the ordinary lecture and notes.
For a Halloween biology lesson I would bring a pumpkin from home and we would actually take it outside and carve it, identifying the different parts of the plant, fruit, and seeds. Then we would place a candle inside once we returned to the classroom–or we had a pumpkin carving contest if enough students brought pumpkins. Their carving had to relate to something we had studied in biology.
Nowadays there is so much pressure to prepare students for testing that teachers rarely have time to insert these kinds of activities into their lessons. Or, if they do, they must get permission from a department chairperson or principal to deviate from the prescribed course of study. I think we have lost a little of the fun we used to have in classrooms for the sake of test scores. It’s even more important for parents to take time to do some of these fun things at home to provide these experiences for their children.
I heard tonight of a local group of school district superintendents who are meeting to come up with alternatives to “teaching to a test.” I hope they succeed in not only convincing our legislators that the emphasis in education is wrong, but that they come up with a way to lead the change.