By: Evan Taylor
“…be the teacher you wish you had when you were younger…” – anonymous kid
Upon first walking in classroom, you will notice the plethora of Marvel action figures posted on top of a shelf. The majority of the action figures are Spiderman, since he is obviously the one of the greatest superheroes. Also, on top of my shelf, you will notice a Thor action figure which was gifted to me by a student as well as many other Spiderman action figures given to me by my students and other children I have worked with as well. If you walk behind me and look at the walls, you will notice many basketball posters: one of Steph Curry, one of James Harden and another of Russell Westbrook. If you come behind me, you will notice a plethora of comic books and graphic novels. The titles of the novels range from Spiderman to Adventure Time and Steven Universe. If you looked at my tabletop at this very moment, you would find a Spiderman comic book marked on the third to last page because that is where I left off as my students and I finished our reading and writing rotations.
When I was in kindergarten, I remember for my sixth birthday that my family took me to Chuck E. Cheese. When I went into the facility, I played many games and won a whole bunch of tickets. When it was time to go, I proceeded to the prize center and picked out two small robots because I knew they were small enough to put into my pocket and to carry into school the next day and place into my desk. The very next day, all of my plans were falling perfectly into place. The teacher had turned the lights off so that some students could cool down and take a nap and she had taken a seat at her desk. As I saw her reaching her home base of her desk, I called my two robots to action for the ultimate kindergarten intergalactic desk battle. The robots climbed from their resting places and prepared to engage in battle. They came face to face and prepared for battle. This was a rare battlefield for them since most of their time had been spent in a bin at Chuck E. Cheese or battling within the confines of my and my brother’s bedroom. As they emerged and began to fight, I began to do all of my advanced theatrics that would put Michael Bay to shame. There were dominate kicks. There were colossal body slams. The battle had gotten so intense that this battle could not continue under the desk out of the teacher’s sight. The robots turned on their jet engines and continued the battle on the desktop. At this point many of my classmates were looking on, predicting what would happen next in the battle. Would the robot that was my favorite color win, or would I allow the lesser robot win to serve as a plot twist to myself and my classmates. As the battle began to reach its climax, I felt a presence over me. As I turned to look I saw my teacher with her hand extended, demanding my robots and the end of the battle.
As the robots took off to land in my teacher’s hand, my classmates had forlorn looks upon their faces because they knew not who was the victor of the battle. Over my robots I declared that I would not allow such things to happen if I was a teacher. I would make rules and times for kids (especially kindergartners) to play with their toys because the classroom is a rare battleground that few toys have ever seen. Think about it: Pixar did not put Woody and Buzz in the classroom until Toy Story 3.
This experience among many others shape my teaching philosophy and practice as I fight for kids’ civil right to be kids. This experience that I had as a kindergartener was one that a teacher could have built upon and asked me to explain the battle and my thinking about the battle. Instead, she merely took my robots away because to her, I was just playing, but in my mind I was creating…and playing…what’s the difference.
Many times throughout the year I let students be the experts of their own knowledge and I sit at their feet and hear what they have to say or what they think about the world. Earlier this week, my kids and I were learning about the Trojan War and a student picked up on patterns in the Grecian characters names sounded a lot like Hercules. A student then refuted the claim of all Greek names sounding similar to Hercules because he knew of a WWE wrestler whose name did not sound like Heracles or Achilles. I asked him then was that the wrestlers real name or his stage name. When he told me that it was his stage name, it showed me that one he is an expert on WWE and it made me question when and where would his expertise ever be acknowledged.
As I finished going around the classroom, I made it back to my desk and low and behold there was a Spidey comic I had not read yet. Many times during guided reading, I read along with my students, sometimes a newspaper, sometimes SLAM magazine, sometimes a graphic novel and sometimes a comic book. As I sat down to read my comic book, I could not help but look up occasionally at the beauty of students reading for the love of reading. Students having good arguments over whether it was Rey Mysterio or someone else in the book they were reading. Students laughing at jokes and one liners in the Adventure Time or Steven Universe graphic novel they are reading. Or seeing students rush back into the classroom to continue reading their comic book. As I saw this beauty unfolding, I found myself laughing and enjoying my Spidey comic book. Students caught themselves looking at me wondering what I was reading. Right when I was getting ready to finish, reading time was up and I had to summon kids back to their desks so that we could continue our math lesson from yesterday.
As I was going around helping students, a second grader asked if I could come down to her class so that she could interview me. I was interviewed by many second graders and they asked me why I teach. I proudly responded that I love teaching because I get to play and create all day. I told them that I have not worked a single day this year, but rather that every day I have had fun and played and created with my students. They went on to ask me what was my favorite thing to do as a teacher and I responded that I love going outside and playing football with my kids and dabbing on them every time I catch the ball. The final questions revolved around my action figures and them judging the fact that I have so many action figures in my classroom. But the interview brought to light to me and to the students, I believe, that school can be the place where a kid can be a kid. Far too often are kids brought to believe that school is a place where kids must destroy their inner kid and grow adult skin.
“…be the teacher you needed when you were younger…” – me
Simply put, if you walk into my classroom, you walk into what I imagined school and a classroom should be like as a child and what my students and I also imagine and create the space to be like as we also live and become.
Evan Taylor, first year third grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Dolton, IL. Teaching is and always will be my passion for it is my creative space and concurrently my therapy. Within the metaphysical classroom space, we transcend space and create alternate realities by which we can begin to make sense of the world while also challenging it. You cannot standardized that, for to standardized one’s transcendence is to clip the wings of a bird and force it to believe that in your hand is where it belongs. We are all angels trapped inside sculpture’s waiting for someone to chip away that which holds us back. May my lessons and teaching be both sculpture and chisel, may my students be my sculptures and chisels.